Since the first moon landing in 1969, twelve people have walked on the moon. All twelve have been men.
But this is soon to change, thanks to NASA’s new programme Artemis, as a part of which a man and a woman will be sent to the surface of the Moon, the first humans to do so since 1972.
Earlier this week NASA outlined its 28 billion dollar plan, which will involve astronauts travelling in Orion, an Apollo-style capsule, and which will then launch a powerful SLS (Space Launch System) rocket.
The timeline, however, is still reliant on Congress releasing 3.2 billion dollars of funding to build a human landing system. This project follows another seismic moment for women in space when, in 2019, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history by completing the first all-female spacewalk.
The new NASA document outlines three phases of the project. Artemis-1, an uncrewed test flight around the moon will take place in Autumn 2021 for about a month and will test out the critical systems. Artemis-2 will repeat the trip with astronauts before 2024 when Artemis-3 will take humans to the lunar surface for the first time in 48 years.
But how will this woman, who will make history, be chosen?
According to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the first female astronaut to walk on the moon will be someone who is currently in the astronaut corps, which currently has, out of 38 active astronauts, twelve women. All are aged between 40 and 53 and come from a variety of professional backgrounds. Some are doctors and CIA agents; others are scientists and military pilots.
Bridenstine has disclosed that she will be someone “who has been proven, somebody who has flown, somebody who has been on the International Space Station already”, and that they are looking to select “the most qualified candidates [out of] some amazingly talented and highly-qualified candidates.”
As well as Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, the candidates include Anne McClain, who spent a few months on the International Space Station during 2019 and is the youngest member of the astronaut corps; Serena Auñón-Chancellor, who joined in 2009 and has been to the ISS once; and Sunita Williams, who has completed four spacewalks and spent over six months in orbit.
Other candidates are Tracy Caldwell-Dyson, who has flown on the space shuttle Endeavor and made two trips to the ISS; Kate Rubins, a microbiologist who was the first person to sequence DNA in space; Nicole Mann, who is currently training for the first crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft; and three veteran astronauts Shannon Walker, Stephanie Wilson and Megan McArthur, who last went into space during NASA’s space shuttle programme.
Could this decision potentially have a significant impact on generations of women and girls to come?
NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine thinks so. “In the 1960s, young ladies didn’t have the opportunity to see themselves in that role. Today they do, and I think this is a very exciting opportunity. I’ve got an 11-year-old daughter and I want her to see herself as having every opportunity that I saw myself having when I was growing up” he says. “I think this could be transformational for young women all across, not just the country, but all across the world.”
A monumental expedition such as this is something that will be ground-breaking, not only for women and girls but for science as a whole. Having a woman at the centre of such a major scientific project may be a sign of the things humans can achieve when there is equality across the genders and could be an important step in the right direction towards not only creating opportunities for and inspiring women but also towards further innovation within the scientific community.