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.
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.)
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.
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.