Fly Us to the Moon

The next lunar explorers will soon report to Houston. Are some already there?

One of these shuttle astronauts could get the call for a moon mission. Top to bottom, left to right: Terry Virts, mission specialists Robert Behnken, Karen Nyberg, pilots Jim “Vegas” Kelly, Mark Kelly, Pam Melroy, Randy Bresnik, and mission specialist Megan McArthur. (NASA)
Air & Space Magazine

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It's more likely that the Orion-Altair crew of 2019 will come from those astronauts around age 40 today. They number only a dozen of the active members of the astronaut office, including pilots like Bresnik and Tony Antonelli, Terry Virts, and Jim Dutton, and mission specialists like Tracy Caldwell, Megan McArthur, Karen Nyberg, Robert Behnken, and Mike Fincke. All have either helped in the Orion design or will be asked to, though an astronaut's technical assignment now is a poor indicator of a future flight assignment, especially when such decisions are years away.

Fincke, who attended a summer exchange cosmonautics program at the Moscow Aviation Institute before becoming an astronaut and an Air Force flight test engineer, is constantly mentioned in conversations with NASA insiders and informed observers as a likely member of the next lunar crew.

Of course, this is speculation. The lunar astronauts won't be named for another decade—and that's if NASA's moon plans stay on track. What's certain is that sometime next May, a dozen men and women will be sitting on a dais in a NASA press conference in Houston or in Washington, D.C. Some may well have their own Stafford moment, looking right, then left, and thinking, One of us is going to be the next to walk on the moon. And then they'll probably blog about it.

About Michael Cassutt

Michael Cassutt has co-authored DEKE!, the autobiography of astronaut Deke Slayton, as well as several novels and television scripts.

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