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NASA assigns astronauts to enter lunar orbit for the first time in decades


Today NASA did something it hasn't done in over 50 years. It announced the names of astronauts who would be going to the moon. NASA's new moon program is called Artemis, after the twin sister of Apollo, but this Artemis crew doesn't look like the ones that would have been selected for the Apollo missions of the 1960s. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce explains.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: A crowd gathered in Houston to learn who would get to go on the Artemis II mission. There were schoolchildren, elected officials, Johnson Space Center workers. Behind the stage was a big image of the gray, cratered moon.


NORM KNIGHT: Everyone, please help me welcome our astronaut corps.


GREENFIELDBOYCE: Dozens of astronauts in blue flight suits ran out. There were high-fives and handshakes. It was like a football team going out onto the field. Only four of these astronauts could go on the first mission to the moon since 1972. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said this would be humanity's crew.


BILL NELSON: May I introduce them to you all?


GREENFIELDBOYCE: He said the commander will be veteran space flyer Reid Wiseman. The pilot will be Victor Glover, the first Black astronaut to live long term on the International Space Station. Glover will be the first Black American to go to the moon, and he said he prayed that God would bless their mission.


VICTOR GLOVER: But I also pray that we can continue to serve as a source of inspiration for cooperation and peace, not just between nations but in our own nation.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Joining them will be Christina Hammock Koch. She broke a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman and will be the first woman to leave low Earth orbit.


CHRISTINA HAMMOCK KOCH: We're going to hear the words - go for launch - on top of the most powerful rocket NASA's ever made, the space launch system.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She said, once in space, they'll put the capsule through its paces.


KOCH: And then, if everything looks good, we're heading to the moon.


GREENFIELDBOYCE: The fourth astronaut on the approximately 10-day mission around the moon and back will be Jeremy Hansen, a first time space flyer from the Canadian Space Agency. Canada was a major presence during the crew announcement. At one point, there were large Canadian flags flanking the stage. That caught the attention of Teasel Muir-Harmony. She's a spaceflight historian and curator of the Apollo Collection at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

TEASEL MUIR-HARMONY: Often we talk about Artemis - we talk about how it's going to land the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But she says the inclusion of other nations is also a huge deal.

MUIR-HARMONY: This is one of the things that is new about the Artemis program is that it's going to be sending an astronaut to the moon who is not from the United States.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Artemis II is scheduled to launch late next year. In the space business, though, there's often delays. An attempt to land on the moon isn't planned until Artemis III, currently slated for late 2025. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.