Who will be the giant for the woman?
More than fifty years after the end of the Apollo program, NASA plans to return to the moon by 2024 as a "test site" to test the next generation of spacecraft before a possible crewed Mars mission.
The new program was dubbed Artemis after Apollo's twin sister in Greek mythology, and the space agency announced that the mission would see the first woman to cross the lunar surface.
So who will she be? Nobody really knows, but it's a safe bet that the candidate will be selected from the current list of 12 NASA astronauts.
They are between 40 and 53 years old and are former military pilots, doctors and scientists chosen from thousands of candidates since the late 1990s.
Predicting who will join Neil Armstrong in the annals of history is not an exact science, but several former astronauts and experts interviewed by AFP say the proximity of the deadline means it will probably not be a new recruit.
"Personally, I would agree to send a rookie astronaut to the moon," AFP Eileen Collins, a former astronaut, who flew space shuttles in the 1990s and 2000s, told AFP.
"But if you have enough astronauts who have already flown, they know how they will react in space.
"Some go there and their symptoms could affect their ability to do the job, but you do not know who it is."
Ken Bowersox, a senior NASA official, agreed. "I think it will be best to send people who have had at least one flight," he told AFP.
This goal will be easier than ever because there have never been so many female astronauts.
When NASA was established in 1958, it only recruited into the military, which was at that time exclusively male.
The 12 moon walkers between 1969 and 1972 were men, and it was not until 1983 that Sally Ride became the first American woman to be sent into space.
Scientists and soldiers
The four women in the 21st class of astronauts, recruited in 2013, represent a good mix of youth and experience. Currently aged 40 to 41, they will all have their first foray into space by 2020.
Anne McClain, a former army helicopter pilot, will remain in the International Space Station (ISS) until the end of June.
Well spoken, with a confident look and a slight smile, she embodies the "good thing" ineffable of the first recruits of NASA.
Christina Koch, passionate engineer and alpinist, is also part of the ISS. She will soon break the record for the longest time that a woman is in space, at 11 months old.
In March, the two men had almost completed the first step in the women's space, but the lack of an appropriate space suit forced McClain to give way to his colleague Nick Hague.
"I think Christina Koch or Anne McClain would be my two best choices," said Janet Ivey, the presenter of a children's show on space and governor of the National Space Society.
But their two female colleagues of the same class, Jessica Meir, a marine biologist specializing in penguins and geese, and former F / A 18 fighter pilot, Nicole Mann, who flew in Iraq and Afghanistan, are also highly qualified.
They are both training to go to the ISS.
In a 2016 interview, the four declared themselves ready to go to Mars if the opportunity arose. It's hard to imagine them refusing a trip to the moon.
There is no upper age limit for space. The iconic John Glenn made his last flight at the age of 77 as a US Senator.
Therefore, nothing excludes the highly experienced Sunita Williams, who is preparing her third mission in space and will be 58 in 2024.
Especially since NASA "has long appreciated the leadership skills acquired by test pilots," according to Kent Romninger, former head of the astronaut office from 2002 to 2006.
"Suni", as she is known, flew about thirty different aircraft during her military career.
Two other women, Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Kate Rubins, have also recently flown in space.
The other five have not flown since 2010 but remain in active service.
There are five women in the 2017 batch but they have not yet completed their initial training.
They are not yet excluded, but the timing is not on their side, especially as NASA tends to stick to a cycle of astronauts once their order established, said Michael Lopez-Alegria, former astronaut who spent 20 years with the agency.
However, the process "is pretty opaque," he conceded.
In Houston, the chief astronaut will want to create a team whose profiles will be complementary, a mix of old military and scientific backgrounds and different personalities.
The mission includes a crew of four, two of whom will walk on the moon. Why not have two women?
NASA qualifies $ 1.6 billion for the "Artemis" mission for the moon in 2024
© 2019 AFP
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