NASA astronaut walks on the 'moon' to get ready for Artemis landings (photos)

two people stand on a gravel landscape wearing spacesuits.
Jessica Meir (right) and a partner on a simulated moon landscape at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Image credit: Jessica Meir/NASA/X)

Eerie new pictures make it look like astronauts are back on the moon already.

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir shared spacesuit training photos of herself and another person in footage released on X (formerly known as Twitter). The landscape surrounding them looks like the moon, but it is in fact a rock yard at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston with lamps and black walls to simulate the harsh lunar surface conditions.

In one photo, Meir — an International Space Station veteran — exchanges fistbumps with her partner (not identified) on the surface of a simulated lunar landscape. They are wearing spacesuits that are not completely sealed, but which are mockups to get used to the weight and feel of the bulky outfits.

Related: NASA wants a 'lunar freezer' for its Artemis moon missions

These exercises will be crucial for NASA's Artemis program, which aims to land astronauts on the moon during the Artemis 3 mission no earlier than 2025 or 2026, according to Meir. "We appreciate all the work the incredible team has put in already," she stated of the training. (Artemis 3 will be the first lunar landing with humans since 1972's Apollo 17.)

JSC's facility is just one way in which astronauts simulate walking on the moon. The Joint EVA Test Team (JETT), for example, is an annual exercise in Flagstaff, Arizona that brings astronauts into the desert landscape at night, where lamps are deployed to simulate the harsh sun on the moon. ("EVA" stands for "extravehicular activity," a synonym for spacewalk.)

Jessica Meir (right) and a partner on a simulated moon landscape at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Image credit: Jessica Meir/NASA/X)

This year's planned JETT exercise has been delayed until 2024, Meir said in the tweet. Last year's edition saw participation from NASA astronauts Zena Cardman and Drew Feustel (an American-Canadian citizen now retired from the program). The Arizona landscape includes moon-like characteristics such as "challenging terrain, interesting geology, and minimal communications infrastructure," NASA officials stated in October 2022, as the expedition was ongoing.

Related: NASA astronauts 'moonwalk' in the Arizona desert for our lunar future

The Artemis 3 crew has not yet been named, but the round-the-moon mission Artemis 2 does have four astronauts assigned for an excursion in late 2024. The Artemis 2 crew includes NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Koch and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen. An uncrewed mission, Artemis 1, successfully orbited the moon in late 2022.

NASA has pledged to include women and people of color on Artemis program excursions, as well as international astronauts. Glover will become the first Black person to leave low Earth orbit, Koch will be the first woman, and Hansen the first non-American. And records for diversity are continually set in other space realms, too; for example, Meir participated in the first all-woman spacewalk alongside Koch, who spent nearly a year in space on the ISS. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: