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Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Col (RCAF) Jeremy Hansen has been named as the first Canadian assigned to fly a deep space mission, part of NASA’s Artemis II crewed test flight to the Moon. The lunar fly-past mission is currently scheduled to launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in November 2024.
Hansen has been assigned as mission specialist 2 and is proceeding with early-stage preparations alongside three American crewmates — Capt (U.S. Navy) Reid Wiseman will be flying in the role of commander, Capt (U.S. Navy) Victor Glover in the role of pilot, and NASA astronaut Christina Koch in the role of mission specialist 1.
While Hansen has provided critical support to dozens of international missions and on-orbit projects since first donning the classic blue flight suit of the astronaut corps, Artemis II will be his first flight to the stars. He was selected as an astronaut candidate in 2009, part of Canada’s third recruitment campaign. Through a rigorous, multi-month evaluation phase, he and David Saint-Jacques were identified to be strongest from a pool of over 5,300 applicants. Saint-Jacques flew to the International Space Station (ISS) in the role of flight engineer on Expeditions 57, 58, and 59.
As a function of the continuous professional development culture of the program, Hansen’s 14 years as a Canadian astronaut have been busy and impactful, with his operational success being noted in ever-increasingly significant leadership roles. This has included participation in numerous analog and simulation training expeditions, including European Space Agency’s CAVES program in Sardinia, Italy (2013), and NASA’s NEEMO 19, where he lived and worked on the ocean floor for seven days, simulating deep-space exploration.
A recent example of Hansen’s strength and responsibility being recognized by NASA program management saw him serving as class mentor and leader for the 2017 cohort of NASA astronaut candidates. The international group of trainees was the 22nd astronaut group for NASA, and included two Canadians, LCol (RCAF) Joshua Kutryk, and Jenni Sidey-Gibbons. The pair were selected following CSA’s fourth recruitment campaign.
The much-anticipated crew announcement was held at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, on April 3, in a flight line hangar which actively supports the aircraft and flying operations of NASA’s international human space flight training program at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre.
Previous Skies coverage explored how Canadian astronauts train and prepare for spaceflight, referencing that while current-era astronauts might not have aircraft pilot training or experience prior to recruitment and selection, the lessons learned through such training is of great value. Much of the NASA flight training occurs using a fleet of dual-seat T-38 Talon jet aircraft, one of which was present to the side of the stage during the announcement event.
As an RCAF pilot, Hansen launched into his astronaut career with the benefit of a vast body of experience in flying high-performance aircraft, under varied and challenging conditions. In speaking with Skies following his assignment to the Artemis II mission, Hansen explained the importance of acquiring and developing flight experience as a part of astronaut training.
“Sometimes, and as anyone who is an aviator will know, there is no set decision-making process, there’s almost an instinctual decision-making process. You have to have confidence in your ability to do that. In aviation, ‘no decision’ will kill you, sometimes; you may not know the right answer, but you know that ‘no answer’ is death and you just have to pick one. In fact, you may have to pick a few in series. The simulators we have here are amazing, but they won’t kill you. You do not have that element of fear that you have to manage in that decision-making process.”
Artemis II will mark the third flight of the Orion crew capsule, and the second flight of NASA’s Space Launch System. Skies had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Radigan, Artemis II lead flight director, about the stages of testing and advancement which continue as humanity prepares to fly to the Moon and beyond.
“This is one step in the overall Artemis campaign, as we think about it. With Artemis II, it’s all about testing crew interfaces. We really need to ensure that all of our ground models, which we think we’ve got figured out, really do match the in-flight performance of the vehicle.
“With the crew on board, the best feedback is them calling back and saying, ‘This is what we saw in training,’ or, ‘Hey, it’s a little bit different,’ and now we need to understand why.”
Speaking on behalf of Canada at the April 3 announcement was the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, under whose portfolio the CSA operates. Also in attendance were numerous members of the CSA and RCAF, including Anna Kapiniari, director general of space exploration, CSA; LGen Eric Kenny, RCAF commander; BGen G. Michael Adamson, commander of 3 Canadian Space Division; and CWO John Hall, RCAF.
Speaking to Skies prior to the announcement, Champagne underlined the significance of the Canadian crew assignment, sharing: “This is not just a new chapter, this is a new book that we’re writing — we’re going to the Moon, and beyond.”
With Hansen’s assignment, Canada is positioned to become only the second nation to ever see one of its citizens explore and work beyond low Earth orbit — the area in which the ISS has operated for over 20 years.
On the topic of the high-soaring international science outpost, which orbits Earth approximately 16 times each day, the federal budget of March 28, 2023, included funding of $1.1 billion over 14 years to continue Canada’s participation in the program, until 2030; this funding includes one additional astronaut mission billet, in addition to one which is expected to fly in 2024 as a part of previously announced funding. In total, the 2023 budget allocated $2.5 billion to support Canadian leadership in space.
Champagne concluded that the Artemis II crew assignment was only possible because of strong international partnerships: “I think the President of the United States said it best when he came to Ottawa recently, that ‘the United States and Canada can do big things, because we do them together.’”