When officials from two space agencies convene Monday morning to announce the crew of Artemis II – the crucial next step in the US space program’s plans to return humans to the Moon – the event will be of particular significance for Canada.
For the first time, a Canadian will be among those selected for a lunar voyage, a milestone taking the country’s space program to a point where it has never been before.
“We will only be the second country to send an astronaut that far,” Canadian Space Agency president Lisa Campbell told The Globe and Mail. “As a full partner in lunar exploration, we have a bright future for our astronaut program.”
Artemis II, scheduled for launch no earlier than November 2024, will carry four crew members on a 10-day journey around the far side of the moon and back to Earth. The mission won’t land on the Moon, but it will serve as a necessary test of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion Crew Module, marking the first time the spacecraft has flown with humans on board and setting the stage for subsequent missions to the Moon Surface.
A previous mission, Artemis I, successfully completed an uncrewed lunar flight last December after a long-delayed launch.
The overall goal of the Artemis program is to reestablish a human presence on the moon – not seen since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s. But unlike Apollo, which was exclusively a US brand, Artemis has so far received commitments from 22 other countries, including Canada.
Under an agreement reached in late 2020, Canada will be guaranteed a seat on Artemis II, as well as on a later voyage to a future lunar-orbiting space station called Gateway. Canada will provide Gateway with a robotic arm and other technical contributions in return for its participation.
Since the program was announced four years ago, plans for Artemis II have been afoot. However, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency said the choice of the first crew to fly around the moon in over half a century would only be made after an analysis of the data collected during Artemis I.
Now it’s time to announce that choice, including the name of the Canadian who will be on board when Artemis II takes off.
Canada’s Astronaut Corps has four active members.
Of the four, only David Saint-Jacques, a 53-year-old medical doctor and scientist, has flown into space. In 2018-19 he spent more than 200 days aboard the International Space Station and set the record for the longest single flight by a Canadian.
Jeremy Hansen, 47, an Air Force fighter pilot who died in May 2009 with Dr. Saint-Jacques, which was chosen for the program, has been waiting the longest to fly. The other two candidates, Joshua Kutryk, 41, and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, 35, were selected in 2017 as part of Canada’s Space Agency’s recent call for astronauts.
Ms Campbell said the decision on which of the four will fly on Artemis II was made in close collaboration with NASA and took into account a number of mission factors. She added that the Canadian agency has been preparing for selection for a long time and that all Canadian astronauts are “qualified and ready” to participate in a lunar mission.
During the 10-day mission, the crew will be involved in a series of performance and human-machine interface tests to learn how to operate in the Orion capsule during an active space mission. As the mission progresses, it will also serve to re-acquaint the world with the spectacle of astronauts traveling far enough from Earth to see the entire planet as a lone sphere traveling through space.
On Friday, Ottawa said François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry, will join officials from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency in the announcement at 11 a.m. ET at the Johnson Space Center near Houston.