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The moon shades the training of future NASA astronauts

The ten individuals undergoing deployment who participated in their training

© Thomas Shea
The 10 new astronauts undergoing training to become astronauts in Houston, Texas, on December 6, 2021.

Christina Birch dreams of making her contribution to the expected return of the United States to the moon after an absence of decades, like nine other of her citizens who are currently undergoing training after being chosen by the American NASA for this mission.

During the intense training that awaits them for two years, the moon will undoubtedly captivate the hearts of all participants. And he was probably at the center of the US space agency’s concerns when it selected these ten Americans with diverse personal characteristics.

Among them, there are especially high-level scientists, such as Chris Williams, 38, a medical physicist who has worked especially to improve directing radiation to treat cancer patients.

“I was very inspired by missions to the moon when I was a kid, so NASA’s Artemis program for a sustainable return to the moon is very exciting for me and I’m very excited about the idea of ​​being involved in it,” Williams told AFP.

Christina Birch holds a Ph.D. in Bioengineering. She started dreaming of going out to space while working in the lab. “By doing these tests with cells and proteins, and by seeing similar experiments aboard the space station, I said to myself ‘I’m up for it’,” she says.

The 35-year-old also has medals won with the US track cycling team during world championships in this sport.

“I love having a training program towards an important goal,” Birch explains.

But she has no experience in the field of aviation, unlike her colleagues in the group who have long experience in this field, and she is eagerly awaiting her training to fly planes.

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“The highest speed I could reach was on the runway, propelled by me,” she jokes.

– ‘Exciting adventure’ –

NASA plans to send humans to the moon’s surface from 2025, and set up a base that it wants to use to prepare flights to Mars. To achieve this goal, the agency in particular enlisted the services of a private company, “SpaceX”, to provide the necessary landing craft.

In a significant indication, one of the ten future astronauts has been a SpaceX employee since 2018.

Anil Menon, the 45-year-old dean of the new batch’s age, served as a mission doctor for Elon Musk’s company and sent humans to the International Space Station.

Menon, who has submitted his candidacy five times to become an astronaut, helped pull Frenchman Thomas Pesquet from the company’s craft upon his return to Earth after six months in orbit.

“It would be amazing if I could do this experiment myself,” he says. “As a doctor, I will see things from a different perspective (…) I think medical knowledge will allow people to stay healthy and safe when we go there,” to the moon and then to Mars.

Born to parents from India and Ukraine, this man is also used to working in emergency conditions. In 2010, he went to Haiti to help with relief work after a devastating earthquake in the country. Then, in 2015, he accidentally landed in Nepal a few minutes before an earthquake, where he once again helped treat casualties who flocked to local health centres.

Future astronauts will relocate to Texas during their training period at the Johnson Space Center. They will be trained to go into space, develop skills in robotics, and learn to operate and maintain the International Space Station, as well as to speak Russian.

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“It would be a huge change for our families,” Williams acknowledges. “But it’s an exciting new adventure.”

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