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NASA unveils new astronaut trainees who could be off to the moon

NASA has unveiled its latest successful astronaut candidates, some of whom could be heading to the moon — and even Mars — in the coming years as part of the space agency’s Artemis program.

The six men and four women (below) underwent a rigorous selection process that saw them go up against around 12,000 other applicants.

NASA's new class of astronaut candidates announced in December 2021.
NASA announced its 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class on Dec. 6, 2021. The 10 candidates, pictured here at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are: U.S. Air Force Maj. Nichole Ayers, Christopher Williams, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. (retired.) Luke Delaney, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Wittner, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Anil Menon, U.S. Air Force Maj. Marcos Berríos, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jack Hathaway, Christina Birch, U.S. Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham, and Andre Douglas. NASA/Robert Markowitz

The successful astronaut candidates were introduced by NASA chief Bill Nelson at a special event at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday, December 6.

“Today we welcome 10 new explorers, 10 members of the Artemis generation, NASA’s 2021 astronaut candidate class,” Nelson said. “Alone, each candidate has ‘the right stuff,’ but together they represent the creed of our country: E pluribus unum — out of many, one.”

The astronaut candidates — the first to be announced since 2017 — now face two years of challenging training, which will start at the Johnson Space Center in January 2022. The work will include learning how to operate and maintain the International Space Station, spacewalk education, the development of complex robotics skills, learning to fly a T-38 training jet, and gaining Russian language skills.

NASA said that following the training, the newly qualified astronauts “could be assigned to missions that involve performing research aboard the space station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, as well as deep space missions to destinations including the moon on NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.”

The first crewed mission to the moon will be Artemis II, currently slated for 2024. The mission will involve sending four astronauts on a flyby of the moon to confirm the safety of the Orion spacecraft. The following year, in what’s set to be one of the most exciting crewed missions in decades, Artemis III will endeavor to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface in the first moon landing since 1972.

It should be noted, however, that dates for the Artemis missions have already slipped and could face further delays, so the astronauts’ lunar missions are far from guaranteed.

Still, Johnson Space Center director Vanessa Wyche remains positive, saying on Monday: “We’ve made many giant leaps throughout the last 60 years, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon. Today we reach further into the stars as we push forward to the moon once again and on to Mars with NASA’s newest astronaut candidate class.”

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