(CNN)Sometime this spring, NASA will make one of the biggest announcements in its history when it names the initial four-person crew for its flagship Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon for the first time in 50 years
Scheduled to launch in 2024, Artemis II will be the program’s first crewed mission to orbit the moon, flying farther into space than any humans since the Apollo program and paving the way for the Artemis III crew to walk on the moon in 2025 — all aboard the most powerful rocket ever built and at a price tag that by then will approach $100 billion.
Yet, as publicized as the Artemis II mission is, the process of how its crew will be chosen is so secretive that it remains a mystery even for many on the inside. Other than announcing the astronauts’ nationalities — three Americans, one Canadian — NASA has said almost nothing publicly about who will be selected or how that decision will be made.
on the secretive selection process. Based on those interviews, CNN not only gained exclusive insights into how the crew will be selected — it has also whittled down the list of candidates those insiders say are generating the most buzz at NASA
At the top of everyone’s list for the first Artemis crew is Reid Wiseman, a 47-year-old decorated naval aviator and test pilot who was first selected to be a NASA astronaut in 2009. Wiseman stepped down as chief of the astronaut office in November, a prestigious job historically responsible for selecting the initial crew assignment for each mission, but which also comes with a big catch — the chief isn’t eligible to fly in space.
“Being chief is a crummy, lousy job,” former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman told CNN. “No one wants it, especially now.”
While it may be a job that few astronauts want ahead of the Artemis crew assignments, it does come with one big advantage.
“Historically, the one benefit of being chief is that, when you did step down, you gave yourself the best flight assignment available at the time. That was kind of an acknowledged perk,” Reisman said. “You did this horrible job on our behalf. Thank you for doing that. Here’s your reward. You get to put yourself in the best seat around.”
Without question, the best open seat right now is on Artemis II — a high-pressure, high-visibility mission that will send four astronauts on a roughly 10-day mission around the moon and back.
INTERACTIVE: Trace the path Artemis I will take around the moon and back
Before stepping down as chief in November, just two days before the launch of Artemis I, the program’s first successful uncrewed test flight, Wiseman made another consequential move in August, when he reversed a previous NASA decision to select the Artemis crew from an initial core group of just 18 astronauts previously deemed the “Artemis Team.”
Instead, Wiseman expanded the group of candidates to all 41 active NASA astronauts.
“The way I look at it, any one of our active astronauts is eligible for an Artemis mission,” Wiseman said at the time. “We just want to assemble the right team for this mission.”
Inside the secretive process to select the first astronauts for NASA's next moon mission https://t.co/ecJbGyAJjz
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The ‘right team’
Determining the “right team” for a mission to space has always been a mysterious process, going all the way back to the 1950s. That’s when NASA was making its first flight assignments for its initial Mercury missions, made famous by Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff.”
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