Four astronauts from the United States and Canada will become the first humans in over a half-century to voyage beyond low-Earth orbit and cross the 240,000-mile (370,000-kilometer) gulf of cislunar space to reach our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon. Their names were announced by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on Monday.
Former NASA Chief Astronaut Reid Wiseman—a veteran of a 165-day International Space Station (ISS) increment between May and November of 2014—will command the ten-day Artemis II mission, targeted for No Earlier Than (NET) November 2024. He will be joined by record-setting African-American astronaut Victor Glover, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) flyer Jeremy Hansen and the holder of the record for the longest single space mission ever undertaken by a woman, Christina Koch.
“The Artemis II crew represents thousands of people working tirelessly to bring us to the stars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This is their crew, this is our crew, this is humanity’s crew.”
“For the first time in more than 50 years, these individuals—the Artemis II crew—will be the first humans to fly to the vicinity of the Moon,” said Johnson Space Center (JSC) Director Vanessa Wyche. “Among the crew are the first woman, first person of color and first Canadian on a lunar mission and all four astronauts will represent the best of humanity as they explore for the benefit of all.”
The selection of 47-year-old Wiseman to command this ambitious mission was not unexpected. Selected as an Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) by NASA back in June 2009, he served as a flight engineer on Expeditions 40 and 41 aboard the space station in May-November 2014, logging over 165 days in orbit and a total of 12 hours and 47 minutes of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) time in two spacewalks.
Following his return from space, Wiseman served in several positions of increasing seniority in the Astronaut Office and was selected as Chief Astronaut in December 2020. He stepped down last November, to re-enter the rotation for a future flight opportunity.
Selected as Artemis II Pilot is 46-year-old Glover, who became the first African-American astronaut to embark on a long-duration space mission, when he flew to the ISS in November 2020 as a member of Crew-1, Dragon Resilience’s inaugural mission. Six weeks into that flight, Glover eclipsed fellow astronaut Stephanie Wilson as the most flight-seasoned African-American spacefarer, a record he has since ceded to Jessica Watkins.
During the course of his six-month ISS stay, Glover performed four EVAs, totaling 26 hours of spacewalking time. He and his Crew-1 comrades returned safely to Earth in early May 2021, after 167 days in orbit.
Mission Specialist One (MS1) is 44-year-old Christina Koch, who was selected into NASA’s Astronaut Corps alongside Glover in June 2013. She launched to the space station for her first spaceflight in March 2019, with an expectation that her planned six-month increment would be extended to almost a full year, to free up a Soyuz return seat in October 2019 for United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut Hazza al-Mansoori.
As circumstances transpired, by the time Koch returned to Earth early in February 2020, she had spent over 328 days in space, the longest single mission ever achieved by a woman. During the course of her record-breaking ISS stay, Koch performed six EVAs, totaling more than 42 hours, including the first three all-female spacewalks, performed with her Expedition 60/61 crewmate Jessica Meir.
Forty-seven-year-old Canadian former fighter pilot Jeremy Hansen rounds out the Artemis II crew as Mission Specialist Two (MS2). Picked as an astronaut candidate by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in May 2009, Hansen’s selection for this mission was unsurprising, as he is the current highest-ranking unflown Canadian astronaut.
Back in December 2020, NASA and CSA formalized their intent to partner on the lunar-orbiting Gateway. As part of this agreement, CSA will build a next-generation robotic manipulator arm—Canadarm3—and robotic interfaces for payload installation, in exchange for a pair of Orion seats: one on Artemis II and a future crew position on a Gateway mission, making Canada the first non-U.S. nation to fly an astronaut to the Moon.
Today’s announcement also includes two members—Glover and Koch—from the 18-astronaut “Artemis Team”, announced to great fanfare back in December 2020. However, in comments made at a press conference last fall in his final weeks as Chief Astronaut, Wiseman noted that all active-duty members of the Astronaut Corps would retain eligibility for assignment to Artemis missions.
Current plans call for Artemis II to launch atop a 322-foot-tall (98-meter) Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, no sooner than November 2024, from historic Pad 39B at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Originally named “Exploration Mission-2” (EM-2), the flight was until 2017 intended to support the now-defunct Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)—an Obama Administration initiative to robotically capture a small Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) and pre-position it in cislunar space for sampling by a visiting Orion crew—before the program was renamed “Artemis”, in honor of Apollo’s twin sister, in May 2017.
Under the new program nomenclature, EM-2 was redesignated “Artemis II”, with a remit to send a crew of four on an approximately ten-day voyage around the Moon. It will mark the first flight of humans to lunar distance since Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Jack Schmitt, way back in December 1972.
With the Orion Crew Module (CM) having been built by Lockheed Martin, the European Service Module (ESM) fabricated by Airbus Defence & Space and the components of the gargantuan SLS originating from all over the United States—the Core Stage from Boeing, its four RS-25 and single RL-10 engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne, the pair of five-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) from Northrop Grumman Corp. and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (iCPS) from United Launch Alliance (ULA)—the hardware for this ambitious mission has arisen from multiple fronts. Every NASA center and more than a thousand U.S. companies have played a role in building Artemis II’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft for this critical crewed test flight.
The 212-foot-tall (64.6-meter) Core Stage was built and outfitted by a NASA/Boeing team at the space agency’s 1.9-million-square-foot (17,000-square-meter) Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, La. Its large oxygen and hydrogen tanks—which will house more than 733,000 gallons (3.3 million liters) of cryogenic propellants for the stage’s four RS-25 engines—completed proof testing and underwent non-destructive evaluations of their performance late in 2019 and by the winter of the following year all structures were in the process of being outfitted with electronics, feedlines and propulsion systems.
In March 2021, the “inter-tank” section was transferred to MAF’s vertical assembly area to kick off the “Forward Join” of four major Core Stage structures. Connection of the stage’s forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, inter-tank and liquid hydrogen tank represented the first major vertical integration of the Artemis II hardware.
By May, the liquid oxygen tank had been mated to the inter-tank, after which the forward skirt was added, topping-out this uppermost section of the Core Stage at 66 feet (20 meters). And in January of last year, the 130-foot-tall (39.6-meter) liquid hydrogen tank was transferred into MAF’s vertical assembly area for integration.
The joining of the forward assembly with the liquid hydrogen tank took place on 18 March 2022, with engineers inserting a total of 360 bolts to connect them together. With these four major Core Stage elements thus assembled, the fifth component was the addition of the engine section, containing four Aerojet Rocketdyne-built, shuttle-heritage RS-25 engines.
Two of these (Engines 2062 and 2063) are “new” engines with previously flown hardware. The other pair (Engines 2047 and 2059) are flight-seasoned veterans.
The latter pair helped to boost 20 Space Shuttle missions uphill between June 1998 and the program’s final voyage in July 2011. Among the flight heritage of the two veteran engines are STS-98 in February 2001, during which shuttle Atlantis delivered the U.S. Destiny lab to the International Space Station (ISS), and STS-125, the final Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing mission in May 2009.
Last June, engineers completed installation of Artemis II’s main propulsion systems, finished integrating electronics and avionics and prepared for combined functional testing. Internal thermal insulation was also installed and the engine section was lowered from vertical to horizontal for mating with the rest of the Core Stage. Less than three weeks ago, on 17 March, the engine section was installed onto the Core Stage, with integration of the four RS-25 engines set to follow in the near future.
Those four engines have undergone extensive testing over the last several years. Between December 2017 and April 2019, Aerojet Rocketdyne individually hot-fired all four engines and qualified their engine controllers in the test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Bay St. Louis, Miss., with all engine upgrades and modifications successfully completed by the end of 2019. Last September, the four engines—each of which generates over 500,000 pounds (227,000 kilograms) of thrust and as a quartet provides nearly a quarter of the muscle needed to get the SLS airborne—were delivered by truck from Stennis to MAF.
Elsewhere, Northrop Grumman Corp. completed the “casting”—or propellant filling—of the ten segments ohf its twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) for Artemis II in July 2019. When fully stacked, each five-segment booster stands 177 feet (53.9 meters) tall and together they provide about 7.2 million pounds (3.3 million kilograms) of thrust at liftoff, which with the inaugural Artemis I launch last 16 November propelled the SLS into the record-books as the most powerful rocket ever successfully flown.
As of February 2023, the ten SRB segments remain in storage at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Utah, with “call-up” by NASA anticipated about a year prior to the Artemis II launch. The transfer of the segments from Utah to Florida will be undertaken via rail, in a journey expected to take seven to ten days.
Providing the muscle to lift the Artemis II crew’s Orion Crew Module (CM) and attached European Service Module (ESM) out of low-Earth orbit and onto a trajectory to the Moon will be the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (iCPS), built by United Launch Alliance (ULA). Its Aerojet Rocketdyne-built RL-10 engine was delivered to Stennis for testing in February 2020 and the iCPS became the first piece of rocket hardware for Artemis II to arrive in Florida when it showed up on the Space Coast on 28 July 2021. As of February, the iCPS is undergoing final assembly and checkout, ahead of integration.