During a news briefing at the Johnson Space Center on Friday, a NASA official revealed that all active NASA astronauts are eligible to take part in the Artemis Moon program, regardless of age.
“The way I look at it, any one of our 42 active astronauts is eligible for an Artemis mission,” Reid Wiseman, chief astronaut at NASA, said on Friday, according to SpaceNews. “We want to assemble the right team for this mission.” This is an unexpected change of plans for the space agency, which hailed a select team of astronauts for its Artemis program earlier in December 2020 (though under previous NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine). “I give you the heroes of the future who will carry us back to the Moon and beyond,” then Vice President Mike Pence said during the unveiling of the Artemis Team.
The Artemis Team included nine women, reflecting NASA’s desire to land the first woman on the Moon as part of the Artemis 3 mission (currently scheduled to launch no earlier than 2025). Among the team members were Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who took part in the first all-female spacewalks, as well as Jessica Watkins, the first Black woman to to embark on a longterm mission in space and the first to live and work on the ISS.
At the time, however, NASA did emphasize that this was an initial team of astronaut candidates who may go to the Moon as part of the Artemis 2 and 3 missions, and that more candidates would be added later. But now, the space agency seems to be leaning towards keeping the Artemis seats open to all of its current astronauts, as well as 10 additional astronauts who are still in training. “We have 42 active astronauts here in Houston and 10 astronaut candidates who will be beating down the door for Artemis 2 and beyond,” Wiseman said during the briefing. Wiseman added that all NASA astronauts will qualify for Artemis regardless of age, saying it doesn’t matter if they’re in their late twenties or mid-sixties.
In December 2021, NASA selected its most recent class of astronaut candidates who began their two year training in January 2022. After completing their training, the candidates will each be assigned a mission, which could now include the Artemis missions to the Moon.
NASA is currently gearing up for the inaugural launch of Artemis 1, which could happen as soon as August 29. A Space Launch System rocket is slated to send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a 272,000-mile (437,000-kilometer) journey to the Moon and back. Artemis 2 will include a crew, but won’t land on the Moon. That’s the job of the Artemis 3 crew, reaching the lunar surface after more than 50 years. The Artemis program is designed to maintain a regular astronaut presence at and around the Moon, so it’s likely that many more astronauts will be added to this list in the future.