NASA has announced plans to include an international astronaut on a future Artemis lunar landing mission, likely in the late 2020s. Vice President Kamala Harris made the announcement during a National Space Council meeting at Kennedy Space Center.
Background Leading to Announcement
The Artemis program aims to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo program ended in 1972. Artemis 1 launched an uncrewed test flight around the Moon in late 2022, paving the way for crewed flights in the coming years.
Artemis seeks to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon and use it as a proving ground for technologies to enable human exploration of Mars. International cooperation is a key principle to build partnerships and share costs and expertise.
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The first three Artemis crew flights will only include American astronauts. However, NASA has signaled interest in adding international crew members in the future as the program evolves.
Vice President Harris announced that a non-American will be offered a spot on a future Artemis crew. This will likely be part of the Artemis 4-6 missions in the late 2020s that will feature extended surface expeditions.
“Our space program succeeds best when we bring the world with us,” Harris said. “I’m proud to announce our commitment to have an international partner join our crew on a future Artemis mission to the surface of the Moon.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson emphasized this continues the agency’s long tradition of global cooperation in space. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored how space partnerships can strengthen ties between countries.
No further details have been shared yet regarding the selection process or which countries might join the mission. Russia is notably absent from the Artemis program due to increasing tensions with the U.S. China is also not involved due to legal restrictions mandated by Congress.
Japan and Europe stand out as prime candidates given their major Artemis contributions so far. Canada also has extensive spaceflight experience. Discussions will take place through the State Department in the months ahead.
The announcement has prompted wide praise from the space community. Janet Petro, director of Kennedy Space Center, called it “a watershed moment that will inspire the world.”
Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said it reflects the Biden administration’s focus on strengthening alliances. “This sends a powerful message that space should be an arena for global cooperation.”
Others see it as an opportunity to spark inspiration in more countries. “This will get more young people around the world excited about space,” tweeted astronaut Anne McClain.
A few critics argue NASA should focus resources solely on American astronauts. But most experts emphasize the value of inclusion.
“Space has no borders,” said University of New Hampshire professor Yvonne Cagle. “Welcoming other nations aboard Artemis continues the collaborative spirit that space has always embodied.”
What Comes Next
In the near term, planning will ramp up for the crewed Artemis 2 flight around the Moon with 4 NASA astronauts slated for 2024. Artemis 3 aims to deliver the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2025 or 2026.
Further down the road, the announcement signals expanded roles for international astronauts. They may join missions focused on lunar surface habitation, exploration of the Moon’s south pole, and other ambitious activities.
As the Artemis program strives to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon, this inclusive spirit will be more critical than ever. Perhaps it will set the stage for the first human boots on Mars belonging to an international crew as well.
Vice President Harris’ statement marks a milestone in NASA’s 21st century lunar ambitions. Embracing global cooperation aligns with long-held principles that propelled past achievements like the International Space Station.
While details remain uncertain, it spotlights an intention to provide opportunities for astronaut heroes worldwide as humanity expands its footprint deeper into the cosmos. It reinforces space as a realm that should transcend terrestrial divisions to bring out humanity’s best in a spirit of peaceful exploration.
This goodwill gesture comes at a crucial juncture amid rising global tensions in many areas. Space may offer a unique bridge for nations to unite around shared ambitions rather than allow disagreements to inflame divides. If this announcement leads to even modest gains in mutual understanding between partner countries, it could echo far beyond the Moon.
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