Biden hosts four NASA astronauts, the first crew to go around the moon in 50 years.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

   The four astronauts selected for the historic Artemis II mission, which involves the first crewed flight around the moon in 50 years, met with President Joe Biden at the White House. During the meeting, President Biden showcased a moon rock collected during the Apollo era, emphasizing the nation's commitment to space exploration.

The Artemis II crew, consisting of three Americans and one Canadian, expressed gratitude for the president's support and leadership, noting that the meeting fulfilled a promise made earlier in the year. The astronauts, set to launch aboard NASA's Orion capsule atop a Space Launch System rocket, will circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth, serving as a precursor to a planned lunar landing by another crew the following year.

Commander Reid Wiseman stated that the crew is focused on the mission's readiness rather than a specific launch date, highlighting their commitment to safety and successful space exploration.

As the Artemis II crew prepares for their historic mission, they engage in rigorous training using simulators and collaborate with Mission Control to ensure the safety of their journey around the moon and back. The crew, consisting of three Americans and one Canadian, will undergo a dress rehearsal in February, simulating capsule bobbing in the Pacific Ocean.

Jeremy Hansen, the Canadian member of the group, emphasized the extensive teamwork required to execute the mission successfully, underscoring the daily collaboration with a diverse team of experts. This marks the first moon crew to include a non-U.S. member and is part of NASA's Artemis program, named after the twin sister of Apollo in mythology.

However, investigations into the heat shield of the Orion capsule could potentially delay the mission. During the unmanned test flight around the moon last year, unexpected charring and material loss occurred on the heat shield. The heat shield is crucial for protecting the capsule during reentry from the extreme heat generated.

Mission specialist Christina Koch shared that during the meeting with President Biden, he referenced a speech given by John F. Kennedy in 1962 regarding the moon mission. Biden highlighted Kennedy's commitment to the challenge and the determination not to postpone such a goal.

The Apollo program, which spanned from 1968 to 1972, sent 24 astronauts to the moon, with 12 of them landing on its surface. All were military-trained male test pilots except for Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt, who was a geologist. The moon rock on display in the Oval Office, Lunar Sample 76015,143, is on loan from NASA and was collected in 1972 by Schmitt and Cernan. It is estimated to be about 3.9 billion years old and weighs slightly less than a pound.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik