NASA has announced an exciting new development in its Artemis program to return humans to the lunar surface. For the first time since the Apollo missions ended in the 1970s, an international astronaut will join American crew members on the journey to the Moon.
International Partnership Takes Shape
The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon. Through the newly announced partnership, an international astronaut will also take their place in history as part of this mission before the end of this decade.
As Vice President Kamala Harris announced at the recent National Space Council meeting, “Our space exploration effort has long been a symbol of what democracies can and should reach for together.”
|Potential Astronaut Candidates
|Joshua Kutryk, Jennifer Sidey
|Takeo Wakata, Koichi Wakata
|European Space Agency
|Samantha Cristoforetti, Matthias Maurer
Bringing an international astronaut on board highlights the collaborative spirit across national space agencies that made the International Space Station possible. Japan and Europe are among the top candidates to contribute the first non-American crew member to walk on the Moon in over 50 years.
Why Return to the Moon Now?
While NASA wants to inspire new generations and demonstrate leadership in space, Artemis has key strategic purposes too. Establishing a sustainable presence on and around the Moon will develop technologies for sending astronauts to Mars and other deep space destinations.
The lunar south pole holds abundant ice water, offering drinking water and rocket fuel to power future missions. Learning to use space resources is vital for ambitious exploration goals. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained, “The United States will lead the safe, sustainable, and responsible development of outer space for the benefit of the entire world.”
The powerful new Space Launch System, topped by the Orion spacecraft, will transport astronauts to lunar orbit. There, the crew will dock with pre-deployed elements like the Gateway space station segment and HALO lunar lander.
Built by private partners like SpaceX, the human landing system will ferry two astronauts between Gateway and the lunar surface. During Artemis III, the first Moon landing of the program, two American astronauts will walk on the Moon. For Artemis IV or later in the 2020s, an international astronaut will join them, wearing a specially designed spacesuit.
Who Will Make History?
Which country provides the astronaut likely depends on formal agreements still being negotiated. Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency have each shortlisted candidates that exemplify the peaceful exploration Artemis represents.
Top options from Canada include robotics expert Joshua Kutryk and pilot Jenni Sidey-Gibbons. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) veterans Takeo Wakata and Koichi Wakata bring invaluable knowledge from extended stays aboard the ISS.
The European Space Agency has German Matthias Maurer fresh from a nearly half-year ISS expedition. Fellow ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti would also make an excellent choice as the first non-American woman on the Moon.
What Comes Next?
While one international astronaut joins the coming Moon landing, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson confirmed more will participate in subsequent Artemis missions. The sustained lunar presence allows NASA’s partners to play expanded roles over time.
The lunar terrain holds clues to the origins of life on Earth. Setting up research stations across the surface will uncover new scientific discoveries for humanity’s benefit. Learning extended living skills away from our planet also moves us towards the ultimate target: sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.
With this inclusive Artemis milestone, space agencies worldwide affirm their commitment to advancing unified space exploration objectives. As nations share knowledge and resources in low Earth orbit and now cislunar space, joint Moon missions shiningly symbolize peaceful global cooperation.
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