NASA Announces First Lunar Crew in More Than 50 Years

The Artemis II lunar crew.
The Artemis II lunar crew. Photo by NASA

More than half a century after the Apollo 17 crew left the lunar surface, NASA has announced the four astronauts who’ve been tapped to be the next crew headed to the moon, and the federal space agency did it with an eye toward ensuring that this momentous event—the next crucial step in the resuscitation of our long dormant lunar exploration program—would be epic.

And, it kind of was, in the end.

Initially, the announcement at Ellington Field (aka the Houston Spaceport) had the feel of a beauty pageant as the astronaut corps streamed across the stage in their blue jumpsuits on Monday morning.

“Now some of you might be scanning the astronaut faces trying to see who is missing and still hidden backstage,” Joe Acaba, chief of the astronaut office ringmaster for the event, said, sounding giddy. “Well, know this: Your Artemis II crew members are already here in the room with you!”

The astronauts themselves glanced around, scanning each other’s faces for a tell or a hint of some kind. If any of them figured it out, they didn’t give that away to us.

Acaba continued working the crowd as Canadian Space Agency representatives, Johnson Space Center officials, NASA bigwigs, state and U.S. congressmen and senators were all acknowledged for their contributions. (Both U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and. Sen. Ted Cruz were in attendance).

NASA has been focused on this plan to get us back to the moon for a while now, but Monday saw the federal space agency making what is possibly its clearest bid yet to stoke enthusiasm and awe over what they are preparing to do.

The carefully coordinated announcement was also a clever try at providing Project Artemis with the old school fanfare and pageantry associated first with Project Mercury and then with Project Apollo. While this announcement differed from the legendary Houston celebration of snagging the Manned Spaceflight Program in 1961 — no parade this time, and no legendary stripper performing for the astronauts unlike the festivities vividly documented in Tom Woolf’s The Right Stuff — it was still a clear bid to connect us back to those storied days.

The participants quoted everyone from William Faulkner to President John F. Kennedy to get that point across. They were summoning the ghosts of JFK, of LBJ, of Houston the way it was back then when the Bayou City suddenly became the stomping grounds for the pilots-turned-astronauts and their race cars and their worried wives.

The proceedings also underscored that despite concerned rumblings and a long slow decline in the number of astronauts being trained at the Johnson Space Center over the past decade, the JSC (and, by extension, Houston) is not resigning its place as the nexus of human spaceflight training and operations.

“Houston is home for us, and it is where we will plan, train and ultimately fly the Artemis II mission,” Acaba said.

So, what does the plan entail? Well, in the next couple of years the Artemis II crew is slated to conduct a 10-day test flight when the Orion capsule is launched on the powerful Space Launch System. Their mission will be to prove the Orion’s life support systems work and then to make sure that the techniques and abilities believed to be required for humans to live and work in deep space are actually correct.

Once this mission has been taken care of, Artemis III’s crew will have the responsibility for taking this all one giant step further by putting astronaut feet on the lunar surface itself. Ultimately, the federal space agency officials plan to get astronauts to the moon and then to use what’s learned from this moonshot to send astronauts on to Mars.

Finally, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stepped up to the microphone.

“The Artemis II crew represents thousands of people working tirelessly to bring us to the stars. This is their crew, this is our crew, this is humanity's crew,” Nelson said, his voice suddenly, almost indiscernibly, shaking. “May I introduce them to you all?”

Mission Specialist Christina Hammond Koch, Mission Specialist Jeremy Hansen (from the Canadian Space Agency), Pilot Victor Glover and Commander Reid Wiseman emerged from the pool of blue jumpsuits in turn, each one striding onto the stage with grins and posture that implied the kind of confidence that didn’t need the soaring soundtrack underpinning the moment.
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray