The major new public-private space program has the ambitious goal of taking humans back to the lunar surface — including the first woman to land on the moon — and keeping them there.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains made the announcement on Wednesday, saying the Canadian and American governments have signed a new treaty outlining Canadian participation in the Artemis missions and locking in a seat for a Canadian astronaut on the 2023 launch.
That agreement will make Canada the second country in history to have an astronaut travel into deep space and fly around the moon, and also locks in a second flight for a Canadian to the Lunar Gateway station which is still yet to be built.
In an interview with Global News, Bains said he also isn’t ruling out the possibility of getting Canadians on future missions as well, including potentially the Artemis III moon landing voyage.
“I won’t close the door on that. We’re still fairly optimistic. We want to continue to build on the momentum that we have when it comes to the investments we made in our space program,” he said.
“I’m very excited and over the moon.”
The Canadian government has pledged $1.9 billion to the Lunar Gateway project, which Bains said includes the cost of the seats on the Artemis II mission and to the Lunar Gateway itself.
The Canadian Space Agency has four active Canadian astronauts working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center: Jeremy Hansen, Joshua Kutryk, Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons and David Saint-Jacques.
“I’m very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for Canada,” said Jeremy Hansen in a discussion among the astronauts that took place along with the announcement.
Hansen compared the mission’s significance with the Apollo 8 mission.
“This time when we return to the moon, our eyes are fixed back on our planet and the challenges that face us here,” he said, emphasizing the huge amount of collaboration involved in the missions.
“That same collaboration is needed as we tackle big global challenges like climate change.”
Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons also emphasized the scientific potential of the missions.
She said research on water and ice distribution on the moon, as well as being able to study implications of space environments for medical research and environmental science, will play a key part in helping shape the way forward towards travel further into the solar system.
“It means Canadians will be there to help facilitate all that future science,” she said.
“It’s wonderful Canada gets to be part of the most exciting part of this new venture.”
Bains added the voyages will offer “enormous opportunities” for Canadians to do cutting edge research and science on two key issues.
“The two areas that we will focus on is the environment and looking at the impact of climate change on the Earth’s atmosphere, as well as biomedical technologies,” he said.
“Now, more than ever with COVID-19, we know how important it is to look at cutting edge research when it comes to the health care challenges that we’re facing.”
NASA put the first men on the moon in the 1960s and 1970s but hasn’t returned since.
The American space shuttle program collapsed in 2011 in the wake of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and a lack of sustained funding for the program and its shuttles.
However, an injection of money and technology from the private sector, as well as renewed political and strategic interest in space exploration, has spurred a major revival in recent years.
The Artemis missions have three core phases: Artemis I, Artemis II and Artemis III.
Artemis I will be an uncrewed maiden flight of the new Space Launch System and the Orion orbiter.
Artemis II, which will include a Canadian astronaut, will be the first crewed test flight of the system and orbiter, lasting 10 days and setting a new record for the farthest human travel from the Earth as four astronauts circle the moon twice before returning to land.
Artemis III, expected to take place in 2024, will launch the first woman and next man to the surface of the moon using a new lunar landing system.
Lisa Campbell, president of the Canadian Space Agency, said the country has a “strong core” of astronauts ready to join the mission, but that there is no decision yet on who will be on the missions.