Eighteen astronauts — nine men and nine women — have been selected to begin training for upcoming Artemis missions to the moon, NASA announced Wednesday. The list includes the as-yet-unnamed next man and first woman who will set foot on the lunar surface later this decade.
The announcement came at the end of a meeting of the National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, that was held at the Kennedy Space Center’s Saturn 5 moon rocket display.
After reading off the names and welcoming five of the Artemis cadre who were present at the space center for the announcement, Pence said it “really is amazing to think that the next man and the first woman on the moon are among the names that we just read, and they may be standing in the room with us right now.”
Pence began the meeting by noting the passing of legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager earlier this week at the age of 97.
“We started today reflecting on a great hero of the past,” Pence said. “The Artemis (astronauts) are the heroes of American space exploration in the future.”
NASA is in the final stages of testing the first Space Launch System moon rocket in Mississippi before the huge booster is shipped to Florida for launch late next year on an unpiloted maiden flight, sending an Orion capsule on a long, looping trip around the moon.
A second piloted flight with four astronauts aboard is planned in the 2023 timeframe to put the Orion capsule through its paces before a landing attempt on the Artemis 3 mission.
NASA has been working toward a schedule imposed by the Trump administration calling for astronauts to return to the moon by the end of 2024 using the SLS, an Orion capsule and a commercially developed lunar lander that has not yet been built.
Even before Mr. Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election, many observers considered the 2024 target date impossible to meet given a shortfall in funding for lander development in congressional budget negotiations.
“We are in the midst of negotiating to get that lander funded,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, updating the Space Council on the Artemis program’s progress. “This has to be generational in nature, which means strong bipartisan support is necessary.
“But ultimately, if we don’t get the (requested) $3.3 billion, it gets more and more difficult. … If there’s anything you can do to help with the $3.3 billion, we are certainly asking for that.”
It’s not yet known what sort of funding the Biden administration might approve or whether a near-term moon mission will be politically viable given the economic impact of the coronavirus, possible stimulus spending and other pressing issues.
But there is broad political consensus on NASA’s eventual return to the moon and whenever piloted Artemis missions begin, the agency will need a cadre of well-trained astronauts to fly them.
The 18 astronauts named Wednesday are among the most diverse groups NASA has ever put together: nine men, including four with space flight experience, and nine women, including five space veterans. Nine of the 18 have not yet flown in space.
Two astronauts on the list — Kate Rubins and Victor Glover — are currently aboard the International Space Station and another, rookie Nicole Mann, is assigned to an upcoming flight to the station aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule.
Also on the list: Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who carried out the first all-female spacewalks in 2019 and 2020, and Anne McClain, another spacewalk veteran.
The Artemis astronauts are:
Joe Acaba, 53 (3 previous flights; 3 spacewalks)
Kayla Barron, 33 (rookie)
Raja Chari, 43 (rookie)
Matthew Dominick, 39 (rookie)
Victor Glover, 44 (1 flight)
Woody Hoburg, 35 (rookie)
Jonny Kim, 36 (rookie)
Christina Koch, 41 (1 flight; 6 spacewalks)
Kjell Lindgren, 47 (1 flight; 2 spacewalks)
Nicole Mann, 43 (rookie)
Anne McClain, 41 (1 flight; 2 spacewalks)
Jessica Meir, 43 (1 flight; 3 spacewalks)
Jasmin Moghbeli, 37 (rookie)
Kate Rubins, 42 (2 flights (2 spacewalks)
Frank Rubio, 43 (rookie)
Scott Tingle, 55 (1 flight; 1 spacewalk)
Jessica Watkins, 32 (rookie)
Stephanie Wilson, 54 (3 flights)
Before the National Space Council meeting got underway, Pence officially renamed the Air Force’s East Coast launch base the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Likewise, the nearby Patrick Air Force Base was renamed Patrick Space Force Base.