by Jim Bridenstine
Today we announced the first in a series of upcoming commitments from our international partners to support our Artemis plans. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed an agreement committing our space agencies to building the Gateway together. As our outpost in lunar orbit, the Gateway is critical for sustainable exploration of the Moon as well as testing systems and operations for future missions to Mars.
With this Memorandum of Understanding, ESA will provide an additional habitation element, enhanced lunar communications, and a refueling capability to the Gateway later this decade. They will also provide two more European service modules for future Orion spacecraft.
We are honored by this agreement with ESA and, again, it is one of several to come with our international partners. Exploration requires more than hardware though – and that is why this commitment with ESA includes opportunities for European astronauts to fly with NASA astronauts on future Artemis missions to the Gateway.
In regard to the NASA astronauts who may travel to the Moon on Artemis missions, we plan to use a similar approach to what we did with the Commercial Crew Program. NASA will announce an initial group of astronauts eligible for early lunar missions known as the Artemis Team. Closer to launch, usually within about two years, we will announce specific flight assignments for crew as well as their backups. We will add more members to this team throughout the Artemis program.
While additional details about crew assignments are expected later, we will launch four crew members on Artemis III for a multi-week mission. This team will include the first American woman and next American man to walk on the Moon in 2024.
After the Space Launch System rocket launches from Earth, it will deploy the Orion spacecraft, and the European service module, attached to Orion, will help provide the propulsion necessary to put the spacecraft on a path to the Moon. Crew will travel for several days to lunar orbit. From there, two crew members will travel to the lunar surface aboard a new human landing system while two astronauts will remain in orbit. Following a historic week on the lunar surface, those two astronauts will return to orbit and transfer back to the Orion spacecraft with their crewmates. That group of four astronauts will all return safely home aboard Orion, splashing down in the Pacific ocean. The first elements of Gateway, produced by commercial partners, will be in orbit around the Moon and available to support this mission if necessary.
As our nation moves forward to the Moon with our 21st century lunar exploration program, we’re excited to do so with our international partners. NASA is working hard to ensure the Artemis program is the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration coalition in history. Seven other nations have already committed to this coalition with the United States through the Artemis Accords, and we look forward to more joining us soon.
We look forward to continuing discussions with our international partners on opportunities for their astronauts to explore more of the Moon than ever before with us. In short order, we will move human spaceflight from beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon for the first time since 1972. From there, we will prepare for humanity’s next giant leap – human exploration of Mars.