NASA on Wednesday formally introduced 18 astronauts who will take part in the U.S. space agency’s new manned lunar program.Nine men and nine women are the first group of astronauts assigned to the Artemis program, half of whom have already flown into space. Two of the Artemis astronauts, Victor Glover and Kate Rubins, are currently serving on the International Space Station as part of the first full-fledged crew to fly aboard the privately owned SpaceX Crew Dragon.The Artemis astronauts also include Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who conducted the world’s first all-female spacewalk last year at the ISS.Vice President Mike Pence, who led the introduction ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hailed the Artemis astronauts as “the future of American space exploration – and that future is bright.”The first Artemis mission, tentatively scheduled for next year, will be an unmanned test flight of NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System and its deep space Orion capsule, which is designed to transport humans to the Moon and Mars.  If NASA achieves its goal of landing the first Artemis crew on the moon in 2024, it will be the first manned lunar mission since the end of the legendary Apollo program in 1972.

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