CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — NASA has named the 18 astronauts — half of them women — who will train for its Artemis moon-landing program.
The first woman and next man on the moon will come from this elite group, which includes Jewish astronaut Jessica Meir, who would become the first Jewish person to walk on the moon if selected.
US Vice President Mike Pence introduced the astronauts Wednesday at the close of his final meeting as chairman of the National Space Council. The announcement was made at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, beneath one of only three remaining Saturn V moon rockets from the 1960s and 1970s Apollo program.
Pence noted that the last of the 12 men to walk on the moon, the late Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, wanted nothing more than to remove “last” from his title. Cernan’s final lunar footsteps were on Dec. 14, 1972.
“He spent the rest of his natural life advocating for America to go back to the moon, and we are going to honor Gene Cernan’s memory,” Pence told the small crowd, seated several feet apart from one another.
Five of the astronauts — the only ones in attendance — walked onto the stage, waving and wearing masks.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stressed there would be more astronauts joining the group. NASA has 47 active astronauts.
The space agency is aiming for a moon landing by 2024, although the chances of that happening are growing increasingly dim. The upcoming change in administration also adds uncertainty.
Half of the NASA astronauts have spaceflight experience. Two are at the International Space Station right now: Kate Rubins and Victor Glover.
The two astronauts who performed the world’s first all-female spacewalk last year made the cut: Christina Koch and Meir.
Meir, who is Jewish, is the daughter of immigrant parents, her mother is Swedish and her late father was an Iraqi-Israeli physician raised in Tel Aviv. She has talked about, and posted material relating to Israel, her religion and her family several times from space.
It’s a fairly young group, with most in their 30s or 40s. The oldest is 55, the youngest 32. Only two — Joe Acaba and Stephanie Wilson — flew on NASA’s old space shuttles.
The other experienced members on the list include Kjell Lindgren, Anne McClain and Scott Tingle, all former space station residents.
Among those yet to rocket into space: Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Woody Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Nicole Mann, Jasmin Moghbeli, Frank Rubio and Jessica Watkins.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report