It’s “certainly likely” that the next two astronauts to set foot on the Moon will both be women, according to NASA’s director of human lunar exploration programme.
The US space agency is aiming to return humans to the Moon by 2024. NASA has already committed to putting the first woman on the Moon during this programme, known as Artemis.
But in an exclusive interview for Verdict’s sister publication Brite Innovation Magazine, Marshall Smith, NASA’s director of human lunar exploration, didn’t rule out the possibility of an all-female landing crew.
“We’re going to be landing the first woman astronaut on the south pole of the Moon in 2024 and maybe even two women – we don’t know yet,” he said. “But certainly one, for sure.”
During the Apollo missions, which lasted between 1969 and 1972, a total of 12 people – all men – walked on the Moon.
When NASA returns, it intends to send a four-person crew to the Lunar Gateway, an in-development space station that will remain in lunar orbit. Two astronauts will then make their way down to the Moon, becoming the first humans to leave boot prints since the Apollo 17 astronauts in December 1972.
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A giant leap for womankind
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine previously hinted that it could be two female astronauts setting foot on the Moon during the Artemis III crewed mission.
This was a deviation from the usual line that NASA would land the ‘first woman and next man on the Moon’.
When asked if an all-female landing crew is something he would be keen to see, Smith said: “I personally would”.
However, Smith caveated that it will not be him that picks the crew – that decision is made by the NASA Astronaut Corps.
“We’ll let NASA’s astronaut side of the house pick the crew,” Smith said. “We will actually be sending on the Artemis III mission four crew members. We will send four crew members up to the Gateway and two will go down to the surface of the Moon.
“Which two those are will be done by the folks that select those astronauts. That won’t be me. But I think it’s certainly likely that it could be two women.”
There are currently 38 active astronauts that are eligible for flight assessment. Of those, 12 are women, but not all of them have flown to the International Space Station (ISS) yet.
Two potential candidates are NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, who earlier this year successfully completed the first all-female spacewalk.