The Artemis II astronauts just met the Orion Moon spacecraft

"It's starting to feel very, very real."
Chris Young
The Artemis II crew standing next to Orion.
The Artemis II crew standing next to Orion.

NASA / Twitter 

NASA's four Artemis II astronauts, Christina Hammock Koch, Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen, got their first look at the Orion capsule that will fly them around the Moon and back next year, a report from SpaceflightNow reveals.

On Tuesday, August 8, they spoke to a room full of reporters about the honor of being the first humans to go to the Moon since the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, as well as the feeling of seeing their moonship for the very first time.

Artemis II crew meet Orion

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen told reporters, "It's starting to feel very, very real. It's not a dream. It's a program. It's real hardware."

"[The team] are grinding it out over the next year and a half or so to try and take us back to the moon for the first time in over 50 years," he continued.

NASA officially announced in March that the Artemis II mission is scheduled to take to the skies in November next year. A month later, the space agency named the crew of four set to travel aboard the Orion spacecraft that will launch atop NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).

Until this week, the Artemis II crew hadn't had the chance to see their spacecraft firsthand. The Orion spacecraft used for Artemis II will be a slightly modified version of the one that flew for the Artemis I mission last year and broke a spacecraft distance record in the process.

"We're fired up," Artemis II astronaut Wiseman told the reporters. "It's a great day when you walk around the corner at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout facility and there's your spacecraft that you're going to ride in — 'the ship,' as they call it. And we got we got to look inside and hang out and it was really quite fascinating."

NASA's ambitious Moon program

With its Artemis program, NASA aims to establish a permanent colony on the moon ultimately. Last year, it launched Artemis I, which saw SLS lift an uncrewed Orion to orbit before it went on to fly to the Moon and back.

Next year's Artemis II mission will see the selected crew of four perform roughly the same journey. In 2025 or 2026, the Artemis III crew will fly to the Moon aboard Orion where they will then transfer to a modified Starship lunar lander that will carry them to the lunar surface.

Ahead of Artemis II, NASA has been carrying out an analysis of the heat shield on Orion. The heat shield used for Artemis I experienced some uneven charring during the Aremis I re-entry.

Though the Orion spacecraft itself was not damaged during the high-speed reentry into Earth's atmosphere, the agency is carrying out tests to get a better understanding of the reason this happened, and how the heat shield can be improved for next year's historic mission.

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