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NASA's Artemis 2 mission: Taking humans around the moon

Artist's illustration of Artemis 2 mission including the Orion spacecraft with Earth in background
The Orion spacecraft during trans-lunar injection, to bring an Artemis mission to the moon. (Image credit: NASA)

Artemis 2 is the second scheduled flight of the Artemis program. 

Following the launch and splashdown of the uncrewed Artemis 1, Artemis 2 aims to bring humans around the moon for the first time since 1972.

Artemis 2 will use the huge Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion spacecraft to launch the crew on an eight-day mission. The astronauts and mission controllers will collect data on Orion and the crew's performance to assess how ready the Artemis program is to send people to the moon's surface.

Elizabeth Howell headshot
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. 

The crew for Artemis 2 has not yet been named. The launch date is tentatively set for 2024, providing that all data from Artemis 1 indicates that Artemis 2 is ready for flight. Assuming Artemis 2 completes everything successfully, the first landing mission (Artemis 3) may be as soon as 2025.

Related: NASA's Artemis 1 moon mission explained in photos

Artemis 2 launch date

The Artemis 2 launch date is tentatively set for 2024, but that depends on the readiness of a few items. 

The Artemis 1 mission is scheduled for an uncrewed mission around the moon in 2022, which will last more than a month. The mission will collect radiation data and engineering data to assess the SLS and Orion spacecraft's readiness to carry humans. 

If Artemis 1 completes its mission successfully from launch through splashdown, Artemis 2 will be scheduled next. The crewed mission will require new spacesuits that are built to endure the cislunar environment, which has more radiation than inside low Earth orbit where astronauts receive more protection.

As of August 2022, NASA is assembling key elements (opens in new tab) of the Artemis 2 hardware in anticipation of doing testing and integration later in the process.

Who will fly on Artemis 2?

The Artemis 2 crew has not yet been named, but we do know that it will contain four astronauts. 

NASA said in 2022 that all of its astronaut corps will be eligible for missions in the Artemis program. Additionally, the Canadian Space Agency will receive an astronaut seat on this mission. The CSA has four astronauts available and has also not named its Artemis 2 crew member.

Canada received its astronaut seat after pledging to contribute robotics to NASA's human moon program. NASA plans to create a space station, called Gateway, that will be in orbit around the moon to support research and landing missions. Canada's Canadarm3 will do repairs and maintenance on Gateway and will include artificial intelligence to allow for some autonomous work. 

The AI will be especially crucial when the station is uncrewed, as NASA plans gaps in between crews. This approach is different from the International Space Station's continual human presence but necessary for budgetary and logistical reasons.

What will Artemis 2 do?

Artemis 2 will be the first major test of the SLS and Orion spacecraft systems with humans on board. The mission will aim to hit four major metrics of readiness, according to the Canadian Space Agency (opens in new tab): mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces and guidance and navigation systems.

The mission path will see Orion take an orbit around Earth known as "hybrid free return," which will see the spacecraft orbit Earth twice to pick up speed for the trans-lunar injection.  Orion will then swing around the moon on a "free-return trajectory" to make a direct return back to our planet, NASA has said.

The mission is expected to last between eight and 10 days, but may be extended to as many as three weeks depending on the mission objectives. The four astronauts on board Artemis 2 will be the furthest people to fly from Earth after 1970's Apollo 13, assuming the new mission reaches its expected maximum altitude of 5,523 miles (8,889 km) above the moon's surface.

The European Space Agency says the mission will need to achieve (opens in new tab) the following milestones:

  • Launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B to low-Earth orbit.
  • A maneuver in Earth orbit to raise the perigee, or the lowest point of the orbit, roughly 40 minutes after liftoff. This will be performed with the SLS Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS).
  • A burn to raise the apogee, or highest part of the orbit, again using the ICPS.
  • A system check at 42 hours after the mission begins to ensure the orbit is correct, ranging from (112 miles) 185 km at the closest point to Earth and 1,616 miles (2,600 km) at its highest point.
  • The ICPS will be disposed and Orion will do a translunar injection to fly to the moon. The trip to the moon will take four days and have a maximum altitude of 5,523 miles (8,889 km) above the moon's surface.
  • The spacecraft will return home. Once the spacecraft is close to Earth, the crew module will separate from the European Service Module and the crew module adapter, allowing for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

What comes after Artemis 2?

Investigators working with Artemis 2 will spend several months at the least analyzing data. The next mission in line is a landing mission called Artemis 3, which will land on the surface of the moon in 2025 if all goes to plan.

NASA's Office of the Inspector General has expressed skepticism about that timeline. There have been delays in getting the human landing system ready, which will use SpaceX's Starship, due to technical and legal reasons. In addition, there were development delays in the spacesuits that NASA was creating; the agency has pivoted to commercial suppliers to fill the gap.

Assuming Artemis 3 lands on the surface in 2025, that will be the first landing mission by humans since NASA's Apollo 17 in 1972.

Additional Resources

You can read more about the Artemis program on the NASA Artemis website (opens in new tab). If you want a deep dive into Artemis 2, consult this European Space Agency Artemis 2 (opens in new tab) site.

Bibliography

Canadian Space Agency. (2022, April 17). "The Artemis program: Humanity's return to the moon." https://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronomy/moon-exploration/artemis-missions.asp (opens in new tab)

European Space Agency. (n.d., accessed 2022, Aug. 17.) "Artemis II." https://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Orion/Artemis_II (opens in new tab)

NASA. (2021, Dec. 14). "Artemis II." https://blogs.nasa.gov/artemis/tag/artemis-ii/ (opens in new tab)

Editor's note: This story was updated Sept. 3, 2022 to include mention of a free-return trajectory around the moon, from NASA briefings during Artemis 1.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.