NASA is almost ready to start its Artemis mission, a multi-stage quest to send astronauts to the moon and beyond. As the agency approaches the launch date for Artemis I — an unmanned flight around the moon — it is also preparing its astronauts to spend time on the lunar surface.
Preparing to go to the moon is about as intense as you’d expect: NASA’s team of 42 astronauts and 10 astronaut candidates undergo rigorous training that involves landing military helicopters, studying rocky terrain in areas like Iceland, spending extended periods at the bottom of a swimming pool and training in VR simulations.
NASA has yet to decide which astronauts will travel to the moon. However, the agency said Friday it aims to launch the Artemis II mission in 2024 — that mission will send astronauts on a lunar flyby test, making it the first manned mission to go beyond low-level orbit since 1972. soil. Then, in 2025, NASA should launch the Artemis III mission, sending the first woman and first person of color to the moon’s surface.
The Artemis program doesn’t stop there, NASA chief astronaut Reid Wiseman said Friday. After that, the program is designed to “support the first humans who are on their way to Mars and follow our footsteps and build science labs and inhabit another planet.
“To me, it’s just the most awe-inspiring moment we’ve had here at NASA,” Wiseman added.
During a press conference Friday, Wiseman outlined the elements of the astronauts’ training. First, they spend time with the military and practice how to land a helicopter in the snow.
“To land on the moon, to land on Mars, we go down pretty much vertically,” he explained. “Whether it’s SpaceX Option A, building their human lander for the moon we’ll be flying, or other contractors coming online to perform subsequent missions, we’ll almost certainly come down vertically.”
As for landing in the snow, he said the goal was to answer: “What does it look like to be white, as if you were on the surface of Mars or on the surface of the moon? And only a few hours In helicopters, it’s amazing how much you learn, how fast you learn.”
Meanwhile, a few months ago, NASA took part in a European training session called Pangea, which helped them prepare to study lunar geology. The agency, Wiseman said, needs to consider how it will obtain, store and catalog moon rock samples for Earth’s scientists.
“It’s a completely different way of thinking on a geologic timescale,” he said. The agency also trains a lot in Iceland, he said, calling it “a very good analog to the lunar surface.”
Next, NASA astronauts use their virtual reality lab to prepare for landing at the moon’s south pole.
“If you’ve ever looked at the moon at night, the south pole has a really weird angle from the sun — very weird light hitting it,” Wiseman said. “There are permanently shaded areas, and we’ve developed in the virtual reality world what it looks like in reality, with the exact sun angle we’re going to land at. And it’s crazy weird.”
Wiseman continued, “The bottom half of you can be in absolute darkness, and the top half of you can be in blinding sunlight. The way shadows are projected over the lunar surface literally changes everything. So in this virtual reality world, we can go in there for 10 minutes and you can answer 1000 questions.”
For another simulated experience, NASA is currently equipping the Orion crew trainer at the Johnson Space Center. It will be ready later this year and preparing the crew to fly aboard the Orion spacecraft.
Just 10 minutes north of the Johnson Space Center, astronauts train in NASA’s neutral buoyancy lab — a very large pool where astronauts have been training for two decades for spacewalks on the International Space Station.
“Now we’re taking part of that pool and seeing what it would look like to be on the moon, spending six hours in a moon-class spacesuit doing research at the bottom of a pool,” Wiseman said. .
Of course, NASA also has astronauts aboard the ISS – there are currently four – who also prepare them for the trip to the moon.
Wiseman said the agency hopes to pick which astronauts will fly aboard Artemis II later this year. For all Artemis missions, the agency will primarily consider technical expertise, he said: “the ability to literally dive into any situation, any technical need of the vehicle, to understand when things aren’t quite right, and to understand When they are.”
Beyond that, he said, NASA is looking for team players who can work well with each other and with flight controllers. Wiseman also stressed the importance of sending a diverse crew to the moon, noting that the incoming class of astronauts represents “all walks of life.”
“Our job at NASA is to do the things that are difficult, and to do the right things, and to motivate our foundation, our youth,” he said. “And right now our country is a diverse and extremely rich country… We want every kid in America to look at our poster and say, ‘Oh, I see myself in there… I can do that someday.”