Enlarge /. Vice President Mike Pence, based in Mission Control Houston, has overseen all space decisions by the Trump administration.
Vice President Mike Pence will announce a roster of 18 astronauts, from which NASA is likely to select the commanders, pilots and mission specialists who will go to the moon as part of the Artemis program.
Multiple sources said Pence will post a list of names at the National Space Council meeting in Florida Wednesday to update NASA's Artemis Moon program. These are not formal crew assignments for upcoming missions, but rather a roster from which astronauts are selected for upcoming flights. Some of the astronauts will be there.
The first crewed lunar mission, Artemis II, will likely carry four astronauts around the moon to test the Orion spacecraft's life support systems. This will essentially be a repeat of the Apollo 8 mission that was flown in December 1968, and it could fly as early as 2023. The first lunar landing mission, Artemis III, can carry two or four astronauts and is unlikely to fly until 2026, depending on the extent to which the incoming Biden administration supports Artemis.
NASA had planned to announce this "Artemis squad" in early 2020, but COVID-19 ruled out public ceremonies with pomp – the aim was to create excitement about Artemis and generate public support. Then, this fall, the agency refused to reveal the names near the elections for fear of politicizing the program.
Still, it can be difficult to avoid politicization, as Pence made the announcement at his final session as chairman of the National Space Council. The agenda for this meeting suggests that it will be some sort of "victory round" for the Trump administration to record its civil and military achievements.
There has been some resistance to this announcement by the Houston-based Astronaut Office. When initially asked about names to include on a squad, the astronaut bureau initially declined, but the White House and NASA headquarters pushed for names. The Houston-based leadership of the Astronaut Corps did not want a publicly named group as this would essentially create a group of "favorites" within the office, which would undermine the sense of unity among spaceflighters. NASA officials declined to comment on the story.
"It is unusual"
There are currently 47 NASA astronauts in the office eligible for a flight assignment, including the 11 members of the 2017 class who have not yet flown into space. Among the corps, 16 of the astronauts are women, and those named among the cadres are undoubtedly under scrutiny, as one of them may be the first woman to step on the moon.
The timing of this announcement is remarkable. If NASA plans to send people into space within three years, it is certainly time for a group within the astronaut corps to start training, whether it be to study geology or delve into the various lunar lander development programs.
However, some sources questioned why this announcement had to be made now, just a little over a month before Pence would step down and step down from the National Space Council. Agency administrator Jim Bridenstine also plans to step down from President Trump on the last day of his term on January 20, 2021. The Space Council meeting offers the Trump administration the last opportunity to put its stamp on the Artemis program.
"It's unusual for someone to assign a crew on the way to the door," a former astronaut told Ars. "This is likely to cause a stir because they want it, but it really doesn't mean anything. The astronaut bureau hates it To be used as a political prop, and it stinks. "
Typically, flight tasks are handled by the head of the astronauts office – currently three-time astronaut Patrick Forrester – and the director of flight operations at the Johnson Space Center. The Space Council meeting begins at 12:30 p.m. EST (5:30 p.m. UTC) and will be televised on NASA.