NASA has announced plans to include an international astronaut on a future Artemis moon landing mission before the end of this decade. The historic announcement came during a National Space Council meeting chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris on December 20th, 2023.
Background on the Artemis Program
The Artemis program is NASA’s project to return humans to the moon for the first time since the Apollo missions ended in 1972. Artemis aims to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2025 on the Artemis III mission and establish a sustained presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade.
As part of reaching this goal, NASA plans to send crewed missions to orbit the moon starting in 2024 before attempting surface landings. The space agency also intends to construct the Lunar Gateway – a small space station in orbit around the moon to support surface expeditions.
International cooperation has been a cornerstone of the Artemis program since its inception. In October 2020, NASA signed the Artemis Accords with eight nations to provide a legal framework for participating in the peaceful exploration of the moon. Since then, over 20 countries have signed on to the accords.
Announcement of an International Moon Landing
Vice President Harris chaired the latest National Space Council meeting alongside NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and representatives from various space agencies.
In her opening remarks, the Vice President affirmed that “NASA is committed to working with countries around the world on Artemis, and NASA will continue to grow the partnership globally.”
She then revealed that “before the end of this decade, NASA is going to land an international astronaut as part of the Artemis program crew.” This will represent the first time that an astronaut from outside of the U.S. participates in a lunar landing mission.
Administrator Nelson added that inviting international participation in a moon landing “signals our values globally.” He said that the choice of which country’s astronaut will take part will be made “in the months and years to come,” likely through ongoing Artemis partnership discussions.
The Vice President’s announcement about an international astronaut joining a future U.S.-led moon landing received a positive response from global partners.
David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency (ESA), called it “a significant and concrete step towardsenhanced international cooperation on Artemis.”
Meanwhile, the ministerial chair of the Canadian Space Agency praised the declaration, stating that “it shows the U.S. commitment to transparency and inclusivity.”
Other international space leaders welcomed the news and expressed interest in potentially providing crew members to upcoming lunar expeditions. Some even suggested holding a competition to select the astronaut.
Further decisions will need to be made regarding the selection of international flight crew, additional partnership roles, and mission specifics.
|Key Next Steps
|Choose Partner Country
|NASA must determine which nation’s astronaut will join the Artemis moon landing based on discussions with cooperative partners.
|Assign Mission Duties
|Roles and responsibilities for the international astronaut must be defined, potentially focused on science activities.
|Finalize Crew Selection
|Once a partner country is picked, they will select a qualified astronaut candidate that NASA officially approves to train for the mission.
|Initiate Joint Training
|The international crew member will need to train extensively alongside the NASA astronauts they’ll fly with using agency facilities and systems.
|Plan Surface Operations
|Detailed surface mission timelines and tasks for the full crew on the lunar surface should be mapped out.
|Launch Artemis III
|NASA remains on track for a 2025 manned lunar landing but surface operations procedures will require updates to integrate the international astronaut.
Vice President Harris concluded the meeting by stating that “expanding our partnerships around the world will ultimately propel humanity farther out into the cosmos than ever before.”
With NASA’s committed inclusivity effort, the world can look forward to witnessing the first non-American step foot on the moon before 2030 through the groundbreaking Artemis program.