The US has committed to landing an international astronaut on the Moon

raising / Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a meeting of the National Space Council on Wednesday in Washington.

NASA/Joel Kowsky

One of the core principles of NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon is the inclusion of international partners. It links the program, like the International Space Station, with considerations of geopolitics and international relations, along with key themes such as US national prestige, exploration, and scientific discovery.

Earlier this year, NASA named a Canadian astronaut, Jeremy Hansen, to train the Artemis II crew to fly around the far side of the Moon, a mission likely to launch in 2025. This flight will not land on Moon, but NASA is planning a series of lunar landing missions starting with Artemis III later this decade.

On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced an international astronaut will land on the Moon during one of NASA’s Artemis missions.

“Today, in recognition of the important role played by our allies and partners in the Artemis program, I am proud to announce that together with American astronauts, we intend to put an international astronaut on the surface of the Moon in end of the decade,” Harris said at a meeting of the National Space Council.

Although the National Space Council is useful in bringing together diverse interests across the US government to help shape more coherent space policies, public meetings like the one Wednesday may seem out of place. cause. Harris left the stage shortly after his speech, and other government officials read from prepared statements during the rest of the event.

However, Harris’ announcement highlighted the role of the space program in increasing the soft power of the United States. It is widely believed that an international astronaut will eventually land on the Moon with NASA. Harris set a deadline for achieving this goal.

Among friends

NASA has long included astronauts from its international partners in human spaceflight missions, dating back to the ninth flight of the space shuttle in 1983, when West German astronaut Ulf Merbold joined the five American on a flight to low Earth orbit. US government officials see it as a way to foster closer ties with like-minded countries. The inclusion of foreign astronauts in US missions also rewards partner countries that make financial commitments to US-led space projects with a high-profile flight opportunity for one of their citizens. .

Similarly, the Soviet Union provided its Cold War allies with seats on Soyuz flights to low Earth orbit. For years, China has been waiting for invitations for international astronauts to fly to the Tiangong space station. So far, only Chinese astronauts have visited Tiangong.

NASA managers assign crew assignments to the International Space Station based on each partner’s financial contribution to the operating costs of the US-led portion of the complex. NASA is responsible for more than three-quarters of this portion of the ISS budget, followed by Japan, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Canada. Russia is responsible for paying the operating costs for its section of the ISS.

Among the international partners contributing to Artemis, it is likely that a European astronaut will get the first slot for a NASA landing.

ESA funded the development of the service modules used in NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts from Earth to the Moon and back. These modules provide power and propulsion for Orion. ESA is also developing the refueling and communications infrastructure for the Gateway mini-space station to be built in orbit around the Moon.

A Japanese astronaut may also have a shot at taking a seat on an Artemis landing. The Japanese government has committed to providing the life support system for Gateway’s international accommodation module, along with resupply services to deliver Gateway cargo. Japan is also interested in developing a pressurized rover for astronauts to drive across the lunar surface. In recognition of Japan’s contributions, NASA last year committed to flying a Japanese astronaut aboard Gateway.

Canada is developing a robotic arm for Gateway, but Canadian astronauts already have a seat on NASA’s first crewed Artemis mission, albeit without a trip to the lunar surface.

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