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Nasa astronauts spend much of the week ‘thinking of ways they might die’

Astronauts Christina Koch, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman, and Jeremy Hansen (L-R) will venture around the Moon on Artemis II
Astronauts Christina Koch, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman, and Jeremy Hansen (L-R) will venture around the Moon on Artemis II - RSSIL/MEGA

Flying to the Moon is a dream of most astronauts, but for the crew of the upcoming Artemis II mission, getting back safely to Earth is their ultimate goal.

In an exclusive interview for Telegraph subscribers, Nasa’s Victor Glover and Jeremy Hansen of the Canadian Space Agency, spoke of their fears for their families and concerns the entire mission would be abandoned if something went wrong.

The pair have been chosen as pilot and mission specialist for the Artemis II mission, which is scheduled for a flyby of the Moon next year. If successful, a landing will follow in 2025 or 2026.

Hansen, 47, a former fighter pilot, astronaut trainer, and married father-of-three, said: “I’ve thought about it, I know it’s a scary thing. It’s a long way away.

“I don’t live in fear but I definitely acknowledge the fear associated with something like this and we spend a good portion of our week talking about the ways that we could lose the crew in space and how we’re going to mitigate them.

“And we know there are some that we will never think of and that is the reality of it.

“It’s really important to me to highlight the fact that we might lose a crew on a mission like this, not likely, we will mitigate all the risks.

“I don’t feel like that’s very probable, but it is possible, and if we do, the most important thing is that we keep going.

“The only way society could let us down for that sacrifice would be if they didn’t keep going if they had an initial reaction of ‘we need to shut this down’. That would be devastating.”

Victor Glover and Jeremy Hansen will form part of the crew for the Artemis II mission
Victor Glover and Jeremy Hansen have been chosen as pilot and mission specialist for the Artemis II mission - MARK FELIX/AFP

Human spaceflight has a good safety record, but there have been notable exceptions. In 1986, the Nasa space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after launch killing all seven crew members.

In 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered the atmosphere over Texas and Louisiana, killing all seven astronauts.

After the disaster, the space shuttle was grounded for two years, as it had been after Challenger, meaning construction of the International Space Station was paused.

Three Apollo 1 astronauts were also killed in an electrical fire in the command module during a ground test of the spacecraft.

The only astronauts to have died in space were the Russian crew of Soyuz 11, who were found dead by the recovery team after their crew capsule depressurised during re-entry on return from the Salyut 1 space station.

Glover, 47, a former US Navy test pilot and married father of four daughters, said he clearly remembered watching the Challenger disaster at school in a televised event that shocked the world.

Asked which part of the mission he was most looking forward to doing, Glover said it was splashdown – the moment the crew module gets back to Earth.

Artemis II is scheduled for a flyby of the Moon in 2024
Artemis II is scheduled for a flyby of the Moon in 2024

It’s a risky thing and it’s important to be honest about that,” he said: “I don’t spend a lot of time feeling nervous or anxious about it. There is one thing that I do feel that about and that is my family being there to watch the whole thing the entire time. They’re holding their breath.

“And I know that it’s not until we’re safely back on Earth that they really truly can exhale and be comfortable and so that’s the part that gives me the most hesitation.

“People assume I’m being facetious when I say I’m looking forward to splashdown, but it’s not because I’m in a rush for the mission to be over.

“If that’s not successful, then we don’t enable future things. All those objectives come to a halt until we figure out what went wrong.

“And so splashdown means one, our families can relax and exhale, but it also means that we’re at least in the process of handing off the stick of this relay race.”

However, Glover said it was the Challenger disaster that inspired him to become an astronaut.

He added: “It wasn’t my goal as a child to be an astronaut, but the Challenger tragedy really solidified the importance of it.

“I was in fourth grade and we were living in Texas at the time briefly and the day of the tragedy, they pulled us all into the auditorium and I remember being impacted, and it was sad, but it was when the principal walked into the auditorium to make the announcement and to turn on the news that I realised.

“It was my first deep thought as a child, that this is because they’re national heroes, the idea of this is much bigger than just the tragic loss of life, and so that is really what started me thinking about the importance of it.”

Victor Glover
Victor Glover says it was the Challenger disaster that inspired him to become an astronaut - HUM Images/Universal Images Group Editorial

Glover, who was born in Pomona, California, served as US Navy aviator and has been a test pilot for the F/A‐18 Hornet, Super Hornet and EA‐18G Growler, clocking up more than 3,000 hours in the air.

He was elected as an astronaut for Nasa in 2013, and served on the International Space Station in 2021, carrying out four spacewalks and becoming the first African American to fly a long-term mission on the ISS.

He will be the first black astronaut to make a flyby of the Moon.

Hansen, who was born in London, Ontario, served as a CF-18 fighter pilot and in 2009 was selected to be an astronaut by the Canadian Space Agency, going on to work at Mission Control Centre for the International Space Station.

In 2013, he participated in European Space Agency’s caves programme living underground in Sardinia for six days, and the following year became an aquanaut, joining the Neemo19 programme, living underwater for seven days off the coast of Florida.

From 2017 Jeremy began training astronauts at Nasa and this year was assigned to the Artemis mission, where he will become the first Canadian to ever venture to the Moon.

Artemis II is scheduled to launch no earlier than November 2024, and as well as Glover and Hansen will include two more Nasa astronauts, Commander Reid Wiseman and payload specialist Christina Koch.

After launching on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket – the largest to ever leave the Earth – the Orion spacecraft will separate and journey to the Moon making a flyby.

It will be the first crewed mission beyond low Earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Telegraph subscribers can watch Sarah’s full interview with Victor and Jeremy on Tuesday, 19 December at 6.30pm. To book, visit http://telegraph.co.uk/extra-events

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