NASA on Monday named four astronauts who will fly around the moon late next year, including the first woman and the first African American assigned to a lunar mission.
The crew of the Artemis 2 mission — made up of three Americans and one Canadian — was introduced to a raucous crowd of family, NASA staff and local Houston students who filled up an aircraft hangar outside Houston's Johnson Space Center.
NASA's administrator Bill Nelson, a former astronaut and U.S. Senator first announced the crew's sole female member, Christina Hammock Koch, by recounting she holds the longest continuous space flight by a woman astronaut.
"This is humanity's crew," Nelson said.
Koch, an engineer by trade, didn't let the historic moment pass by unnoticed, quipping, "And so am I excited? Absolutely!"
Shortly after came another barrier breaking announcement, this time the naming of American astronaut Victor Glover as mission pilot. Glover is the first African American who will orbit the moon.
"We need to celebrate this moment for human history," Glover said.
"Artemis 2 is more than a mission to the moon and back. It's more than a mission before we send people to the surface of the moon. It is the next step on the journey before we get humanity to Mars." The Canadian astronaut named to the crew, Jeremy Hansen, lauded the NASA's outlook by "curating a very global team." Hansen is the lone space rookie and is a former jet fighter pilot.
Rounding out the crew is mission commander Reid Wiseman. Both he and Glover also have extensive experience as Naval aviators.
The four astronauts will be the first to fly NASA's Orion capsule, launching atop a Space Launch System rocket from Kennedy Space Center no earlier than late 2024. They will not land or but rather fly around the moon and head straight back to Earth. It's a prelude to a lunar landing by two others a year later.
Wiseman, Glover and Koch have all lived on the International Space Station. All four crewmembers are in their 40s.
This is the first moon crew to include someone from outside the U.S. — and the first crew in NASA's new moon program named Artemis after the twin sister of mythology's Apollo. Late last year, an empty Orion capsule flew to the moon and back in a long-awaited dress rehearsal.
It is the successor to the pioneering Apollo moon mission, which NASA concluded in 1972. All astronauts involved in it were US military-trained male test pilots except for Apollo 17's Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who closed out that moon landing era alongside the late Gene Cernan.
Should the Artemis 2 moon-shot go well, NASA aims to land 2 astronauts on the moon by 2025 or so.
NASA picked from 41 active astronauts for its first Artemis crew. Canada had four candidates. Almost all of them took part in Monday's ceremony at Johnson Space Center's Ellington Field, a pep rally of sorts that ended with Wiseman leading the crowd in a chant.
President Joe Biden spoke with the four astronauts and their families on Sunday. In a tweet Monday, Biden said the mission "will inspire the next generation of explorers, and show every child — in America, in Canada, and across the world — that if they can dream it, they can be it."
It's a sentiment echoed by Houston elementary school student Jasper Stewart, Jr., who joined his classmates to watch the astronaut introductions.
"To me it's very inspirational," Stewart said. "It tells me I can do whatever I want as a Black or African American. I can dream."
The Associated Press contributed portions to this report.
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