NASA announced Sunday it will name the spaceflight crew of the Artemis II mission in early 2023, following the successful completion of the first phase of its mission to the moon.
Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said at a press conference just hours after the splashdown of the Orion spacecraft that the team wanted to wait until the completion of Artemis I to make an announcement.
“Our intent is — if all is still go and everything looks good — then our plan is to name the crew in early 2023,” she said. “That is our game plan.”
Artemis I sent an unmanned flight around the moon, with the capsule blazing back down to Earth at more than 32 times the speed of sound on Sunday after traveling more than 40,000 miles past the moon and about 268,000 miles from Earth.
Artemis II will see four astronauts travel around the moon, with a launch expected within the next two years.
The final phase is Artemis III, which will send two astronauts, including a woman and a person of color, onto the lunar surface in 2025 or 2026, for the first time in roughly 50 years.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Sunday also mentioned the Artemis program is working toward a long-term goal of landing humans on Mars by the end of the 2030s.
“Space is the place. You see that in the eyes of children, you see it in the interaction of our guys in the blue suits, our astronauts when they walk into any room,” Nelson said. “You see that in a nation that has been riven with partisanship. That doesn’t exist here.”
The Artemis I spacecraft, loaded with three dummies inside, endured temperatures exceeding 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit before it landed in the waters west of Baja California near Guadalupe Island.
NASA, which called the splashdown near perfect, is now working with local responders to get the capsule out of the water and safely back home to its team in Florida.
The successful flight test comes after NASA faced multiple delays caused by hurricanes and technical issues as it attempted to fire the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket with Orion attached this fall.
In mid-November, the SLS finally lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center and sent Orion on its maiden journey.
When it splashed down on Sunday, NASA said the first step in the Artemis program was a historic and momentous venture that lays the groundwork for the next missions.
Jim Free, the associate administrator for exploration systems development, said there was still quite a bit of work for the team ahead of an anticipated 2024 launch for Artemis II.
“One thing we’ve always been concerned about is what have we learned from [Artemis I] and are there changes we have to make?” Free said. “That’s some of the work we’ll be going through.”
NASA officials will be reviewing reams of data and conducting analyses of the flight to improve future missions.
Mike Serafin, the Artemis mission manager, said the successful flight of Orion means NASA now has a “foundational deep space transportation system.”
“This is what mission success looks like,” he said.