Monday, April 10, 2023

This week’s NASA announcement naming the four astronauts who will crew the Artemis Two mission to the Moon is being called “historic” by a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Iowa.

Associate Professor Allison Jaynes says she was thrilled to see astronaut Christina Koch assigned to the lunar mission, the first in more than 50 years. “Having her to be one of the first people to revisit the Moon is very substantial because we are living in a society where we’re still talking about and arguing about these issues of equality,” Jaynes says, “and so having her be selected, and Victor Glover as well, is an incredible decision.”

Glover will be the first black astronaut to orbit the Moon. All previous Moon missions were crewed entirely by white men. Artemis Two will fly around the Moon late next year or early in 2025, while later missions aim to -land- on the Moon’s surface, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 1972.

Sally Ride became the first American woman in space aboard the Shuttle Challenger in 1983, and women have played an increasingly important role in the program over the decades. Still, Jaynes says there are glass ceilings in space, too.  “You might say cowboys are the ones we think of when we think of astronauts,” Jaynes says. “Women still aren’t the image of an astronaut. When you say ‘astronaut’ to a bunch of schoolchildren, they will assume a man, they will assume a male astronaut. So this spaceflight, it’s really going to change the way that students and children and everyone around the world views astronauts.”

Iowa native Peggy Whitson, who retired from the astronaut corps in 2018, is among the most accomplished space travelers. Whitson, who was born in Mount Ayr and raised on a farm near Beaconsfield, spent 665 days in space — a record for any American astronaut. She was the International Space Station’s first science officer and its first woman commander. In addition to the space endurance record, Whiston logged more EVAs — or spacewalks — than any other woman.