A Canadian astronaut will fly around the Moon on the first crewed mission of NASA’s new rocket

One of Canada’s astronauts will be sent around the Moon as part of a partnership between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), NASA announced today. The two organizations have formally agreed to collaborate on building a lunar space station called the Lunar Gateway. The Gateway is just one part of NASA’s larger Artemis program, which is focused on landing a woman on the Moon by 2024.

A Canadian astronaut will participate in NASA’s planned Artemis II mission, and the CSA also has a seat on a future flight to the Gateway once it is complete. By joining the Artemis II mission, Canada will become the second country to have an astronaut fly around the Moon, the CSA says. Canada currently has just four active astronauts, and the CSA has not announced which will be participating in this partnership.

Artemis I is the uncrewed test of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and its Orion capsule. Artemis II will be the first flight of the system with people on board, and during its 10-day mission, the crew will test the spacecraft’s systems on a trip that will take them 4,600 miles past the far side of the Moon. Actually landing on the Moon is planned for the next mission, Artemis III.

Along with crew, the partnership signed today says that the CSA will provide external robotics assistance for the Gateway, including the construction of Canadarm3, an autonomous robotics system with multiple arms and detachable tools. Canadarm3 will inspect and repair the outside of the Gateway, catch visiting vehicles, and relocate modules of the Gateway as it orbits the Moon.

Building and maintaining the Gateway is a critical step in NASA’s plan to create a long-term foothold on the Moon. The Gateway is intended as a research station and rest stop for longer missions to the Moon and into deep space.

Whether NASA can meet its ambitious goal of landing people on the Moon in 2024 remains to be seen. NASA has struggled with budgeting issues in building the SLS and a component failure in the Orion capsule it’s supposed to carry. Despite the concern, NASA says it will still be able to launch the Artemis I mission in November 2021. Artemis II, with its new Canadian crew member in tow, is planned for 2023.