NASA is almost ready to begin the Artemis mission, a multi-stage mission to send astronauts to the Moon and beyond. With the agency’s launch date approaching, Artemis I – Unmanned flight around the moon – It also prepares astronauts to spend time on the moon’s surface.
Preparing to go to the Moon is almost as intense as you’d expect: NASA’s team of 42 astronauts and 10 astronaut candidates undergo rigorous training that includes landing Army helicopters, studying the rocky terrain in regions like Iceland, and spending long stretches on the sea floor. Gather and train in a virtual reality simulator.
NASA has not yet decided which astronauts will travel to the Moon. However, the agency said Friday that it aims to launch the Artemis II mission in 2024 — that mission will send astronauts on test flybys of the moon, making it the first manned mission beyond low Earth orbit since 1972. Then, in 2025, NASA should The launch of the Artemis III mission, sending the first woman and first people of color to the surface of the Moon.
NASA astronaut Reed Wiseman said Friday that the Artemis program does not end there. Next, the program is designed to support “the first humans to track Mars, set our footsteps, build science laboratories, and inhabit another planet.”
“For me, it’s the most terrifying moment we’ve ever had here at NASA,” Wiseman added.
At a news conference Friday, Wiseman outlined the elements of astronaut training. First, they spend time with the military, training how to land a helicopter in the snow.
“In order to land on the Moon, in order to land on Mars, we’re going to land pretty much vertically,” he explained. “Whether it is SpaceX Option Aor building a human landing craft for the moon that we’re going to fly, or other contractors coming online for later missions, we’ll almost certainly land vertically.”
As for landing on the ice, he said the purpose is to answer, “What’s it like to be bleached outside, like you’re on Mars or on the moon? And with just a few hours in helicopters, it’s amazing how much you learn, and how fast you learn.”
Meanwhile, NASA participated in a European training course a few months ago called Pangea, which helped them prepare for the study of lunar geology. Wiseman said the agency should think about how to obtain, preserve and classify samples of lunar rocks for scientists on Earth.
“It’s a completely different way of thinking about a geological time scale,” he said. He said the agency also trains a lot in Iceland, describing it as “a very good analogue of the moon’s surface.”
Next, NASA astronauts use their virtual reality lab to prepare for a landing at the Moon’s south pole.
“If you ever look at the moon at night, the south pole has a very strange sun angle — a very strange light hitting it,” Wiseman said. “There are permanently shaded areas, and in VR we have developed what it looks like in real life, with the exact angle of the sun we’re going to land at. It’s insanely weird.”
Wiseman continued, “The lower half of you can be in absolute black, and the upper half of you can be in bright sunlight. The way shadows are projected across the surface of the moon, it literally changes everything. So in this virtual reality world, we can go Get there for 10 minutes, and you can answer 1,000 questions.”
For another simulation experience, NASA is currently outfitting an Orion crew trainer at Johnson Space Center. It will be ready later this year, preparing the crew to fly aboard the Orion spacecraft.
Just 10 minutes north of the Johnson Space Center, astronauts are training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory – a very large dock where astronauts have been training for spacewalks for the International Space Station two decades ago.
“Now we’re taking a part of that pool and looking at what it would look like to be on the moon, to spend six hours in a lunar-class spacesuit doing research at the bottom of the pool,” Wiseman said.
Of course, NASA also has astronauts aboard the International Space Station – there are currently four – which is also preparing them for the trip to the Moon.
Wiseman said the agency hopes to select the astronauts who will fly the Artemis II later this year. For all Artemis assignments, he said, the agency will primarily consider technical expertise — “the ability to dive into literally any situation, any vehicle technical need, understanding when things aren’t going well, and understanding when they are.”
On top of that, he said, NASA is looking for players as a team who can work well with each other and with flight managers. Wiseman also stressed the importance of sending a diverse crew to the Moon, also noting that the upcoming class of astronauts represents “all walks of life.”
“Our job at NASA is to do the hard things, do the right things, and motivate our base, which is our youth,” he said. “And now our country is a very diverse and rich country… We want every kid in America to look at our poster and say, ‘Oh, I see myself in it… I can do that one day.'” “