Canada to become second nation ever to send people to the Moon

by Chris Gebhardt

To date, only Americans have travelled to the Moon.  On Artemis 2, that will change when the Canadian Space Agency sends one of its four astronauts on the first-ever crewed flight of NASA’s Orion capsule and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on a near two week test flight around the Moon.

The as yet un-assigned crewmember will become the first Canadian to travel to lunar orbit and will be one of up-to four crew on the scheduled 2023 Artemis 2 test flight — making Canada only the second nation to send one of its citizens to our closest neighbor.

Canada to the Moon

Prior to today’s announcement, Canada was the first nation to join the Lunar Gateway with NASA and was within the first group of nations to officially join the Artemis Program earlier this year.

At the outset of its Lunar Gateway commitment, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) secured several hundred million dollars in government funding to invest in the project as well as offered to provide the robotic arm and robotic interfaces for Gateway modules to support exterior science platforms that will be vital to Gateway’s operation.

Canadarm3, announced earlier this year, will be an autonomous arm debuting upgraded capabilities and lessons learned from Canadarm2 and Dextre on the Space Station while also taking advantage of commercial advancements in robotics that Canadian company MDA has made in the 25 years since development of the International Space Station’s arm began.

The contract for Canadarm3 was formalized earlier this month. Prior to that, NASASpaceflight spoke with the CSA Director General Gilles Leclerc as well as members of CSA’s RoboTeam about the future of Canadian robotics in space.

The announcement today that Canada is the first nation to have a seat for one of its astronauts on the first crewed Artemis flight serves as yet another example of the commitment CSA has to space exploration and the science returns that benefit everyone’s life.

CSA officials have also made clear that just as their commitment to Canada and NASA for the International Space Station was “for as long as it lasts,” so too is the agency’s commitment to the Lunar Gateway and Artemis.

Artemis 2 will be the first crewed mission to the Moon since Apollo 17 departed the Taurus-Littrow valley 48 years ago this week.  It will also mark the first human flight beyond low Earth orbit since Apollo 17 and the first-ever international human spaceflight to leave low Earth orbit.

The launcher elements for Artemis 2 are already well underway, with the Solid Rocket Boosters already cast with propellant in Utah, the Orion capsule and its service module in build operations, the Core Stage under construction, and former Space Shuttle Main Engines undergoing processing for flight.

Artemis 2 will follow Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight set to launch no earlier than November 2021.

Artemis 2 will follow, launching from LC-39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, some time in 2023 per current schedules.  This will mark the first lunar human flight from 39B since Apollo 10 in May 1969.

Artemis 2 mission profile. (Credit: NASA)

While Artemis 2 will not land on the Moon, but will perform a flyby, testing the NASA-Lockheed Martin-developed Orion capsule and the European Space Agency-provided European Service Module.

Artemis 2 will pave the way for Artemis 3 — which will land on the Moon — and future missions.

The announcement today did not say which Canadian astronaut will be assigned the seat; however, the person will be chosen from one of the four current Canadian astronauts, including David Saint-Jacques, who already has one expedition to the International Space Station to his name, or one of three rookie astronauts: Jeremy Hansen, Joshua Kutryk, or Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons.

The agreement with NASA also calls for a seat on a future Gateway science mission.

Moreover, speaking at the announcement today, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry for the Canadian government, said he hopes this also leads, one day, to a Canadian landing on the Moon as well.

CSA-NASA history

The announcement follows nearly 60 years of cooperation between NASA and the Canadian space sector and over 150 years of deeply close relations between the United States and Canada.

Canada’s space sector built the Apollo lunar lander’s landing legs that were used from 1969 to 1972 to safely bring 12 Americans to the surface of the Moon.

In the 1970s, NASA once again turned to Canada — this time for their robotic expertise — for the development and build of Canadarm, a robotic arm vital to the Shuttle’s ability to deploy and capture satellites as well as construct the Space Station in orbit.

Canadarm proved such a stellar device across the Shuttle fleet, with each Shuttle Orbiter having its own arm, that CSA offered a prime contribution of a large robotic system for the International Space Station.

This included Canadarm2, the Mobile Base System to transport the arm along the Space Station’s truss, and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator — or DEXTRE.

So successful have those elements been, that CSA is now testing automation with Canadarm2 — something that was never envisioned when it was launched 19 years ago.

When tragedy struck on 1 February 2003 with the loss of Shuttle Columbia and the STS-107 crew, NASA turned to CSA to develop the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS).

The OBSS was used successfully on every Shuttle flight after the Columbia accident to inspect Discovery’s, Atlantis’, and Endeavour’s Thermal Protection Systems for damage and to ensure a good heat shield for reentry and landing.

The OBSS also proved vital for a never-intended purpose on STS-120/Discovery in October/November 2007 when a solar array on the Station tore during deployment, necessitating a spacewalk to stitch it back together.

NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski on the OBSS as he repairs an active solar array outside the Station in November 2007. (Credit: NASA)

However, the Station’s and Shuttle’s arms couldn’t reach out that far.  

So NASA and CSA came up with a way — within days — to mount an astronaut to Discovery’s OBSS.  The Station’s arm then extended the astro on the end of the OBSS out so he could reach and repair the damaged solar array.

So effective was this unintended use of the OBSS that NASA developed a plan to leave one behind on the Station at the end of the Shuttle Program.  That milestone arrived on STS-134, the final flight of the Shuttle Endeavour in May 2011.

Now, with the Artemis Program and the Lunar Gateway, Canada will extend its robotic and human reach outward from Earth while ensuring a position at the forefront of lunar and robotic science — each of which will have positive impacts to everyday life on Earth.

Lead image credit: CSA

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