JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas — On Dec. 9, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence announced the “Artemis Team” of 18 astronauts chosen to begin training for missions to the moon.
The cadre of 18, chosen from the then-active 47 astronauts, was previously unannounced and came as somewhat of a surprise at the end of a National Space Council meeting, chaired by Pence, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
At the time, the announcement received some criticism.
“When initially asked for names to include in a cadre, the Astronaut Office at first demurred, but the White House and NASA Headquarters pressed for names,” Eric Berger, of Ars Technica, said. “The Houston-based leadership of the Astronaut Corps did not want a publicly named group because it would essentially create a group of ‘favorites’ within the office, undermining a sense of unity shared among the space fliers.”
“Some sources questioned why this announcement needed to be made now, with only a little more than a month before Pence would leave office and exit the National Space Council,” Berger continued.
“‘It is unusual for someone to assign a crew on their way out the door,’ one former astronaut told Ars. ‘This will probably end up making a splash because they want it to, but it really doesn’t mean anything. The Astronaut Office hates being used as a political prop, and this reeks of it.’”
As it turns out, the anonymous former astronaut appears to be correct, and Pence’s Dec. 9, 2020, announcement didn’t mean anything.
On Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, at Johnson Space Center’s “Artemis 1 Media Day,” Reid Wiseman, the current chief of the Astronaut Office, said, “The way I look at it is . . . we have 42 active NASA astronauts . . . . Right now, every one of our astronauts is eligible for an Artemis mission.”
Further, when asked about the previous culling-down of 40+ astronauts to a smaller Artemis group, Wiseman said, “We have definitely not done that. We have 42 active astronauts, and earlier this year . . . we announced our latest class of astronaut candidates . . . . And they’re in their initial training right now. When they graduate in about 18 months, then they’ll come into the 42 active astronauts with us.”
“The Artemis cadre of astronauts was a public relations stunt, period. And frankly, it has had negative consequences for NASA. It divided the astronaut office into perceived ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Just not healthy for morale,” Berger posted on Twitter following Wiseman’s Aug. 5 statements. “NASA should back up Wiseman’s statement and say all of the corps is eligible for Artemis missions.”
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