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NASA recently announced the 18 astronauts who will start training for a mission to the moon, launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It'll be the first human mission to the moon in nearly 50 years, and it will include the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface. From member station WMFE in Orlando, Fla., Brendan Byrne reports.
BRENDAN BYRNE, BYLINE: These days, NASA's Kayla Barron finds herself gazing at the night sky, staring at the moon and imagining what it would be like to stand on the lunar surface and look back at Earth.
KAYLA BARRON: And, you know, I think that's something that I can't really wrap my head around. But it just fills me with this excitement, you know, the opportunity to do something that seems pretty impossible.
BYRNE: Barron may get that opportunity now that she's been selected for NASA's Artemis cadre, a group of 18 astronauts - nine women and nine men - who will train for the agency's next moon shot. NASA's new moon missions are called Artemis. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo.
For astronaut Jessica Meir, Artemis will pick up where Apollo left off, conducting crucial experiments on the lunar surface.
JESSICA MEIR: If you look at the scientific experiments that were conducted on the Apollo missions, they changed the way that we see our solar system. And we are still, to this day, learning from those very samples using newer technologies all the time. But there is so much yet to discover.
BYRNE: The Artemis program is planning to start with an uncrewed mission of NASA's Orion spacecraft on a trip around the moon and back, getting a big boost from its newest mega-rocket SLS. Then Artemis 2 would take astronauts on a trip around the moon before the next mission, Artemis 3, that would carry humans to the surface for the first time since 1972. Moon missions are risky. NASA's Apollo 1 ended with the deaths of three astronauts. Apollo 13 nearly marooned the crew in space. For Artemis astronaut and spaceflight vet Anne McClain, the risk is always top of mind.
ANNE MCCLAIN: You know, I talk to people often about the doubts that's in the back of our mind - right? - because we're all human, and this is human spaceflight. And the human in human spaceflight is the most complicated part.
BYRNE: It's still uncertain when that human spaceflight will happen. Development of NASA's SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft have faced delays and cost overruns. The Trump administration charged the agency with landing astronauts by 2024. But with a new administration coming in, it's unclear just how fast it will want NASA to go. NASA's making strides in gender equality in the astronaut corps and in space, including the first all-female spacewalk last year. Both of these women, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, were selected for Artemis training. Here's Meir.
MEIR: To us, it really isn't a personal achievement for us; it is paying homage and tribute to the generations of women and other minorities that really were the boundary pushers that truly broke those glass ceilings to let us be here today. The great thing is for us now, it just seems normal.
BYRNE: Before joining NASA, Kayla Barron was in the Navy, a member of the first class of women commissioned into the submarine community. She sees a long list of firsts ahead of the women at NASA.
BARRON: I think it's really an acknowledgement of how far we've come since the Apollo era for gender equality. You know, the first woman on the moon will be the first woman on the moon but in a long line of firsts within the astronaut corps.
BYRNE: For NPR News, I'm Brendan Byrne.
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