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Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Who will be the first woman?

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Fifty years after a military test pilot made the first striated boot prints in the thick gray powder of the lunar surface, NASA has an ambitious plan to send humans back to the moon by 2024.

But this time there's a twist.

The next time a pair of astronauts set foot on the moon, the space agency has vowed that at least one of them will be a woman.

"I think most women would say it's about time," said former astronaut Janet Kavandi, director of NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "Women have been in the astronaut corps for decades now. We've gone everywhere else our male counterparts have gone."

NASA is so serious about sending a woman to the moon that it has named its new lunar program Artemis. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the moon and twin sister of the sun god Apollo.

"Having women astronauts on the moon is something that is long overdue," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And because we have this very diverse, highly qualified astronaut corps, we can make that a reality."


Jeff Hoffman, another former astronaut who's now a professor at MIT, said that sending a woman to walk on the moon would be deeply symbolic.

"When people ask when I knew I wanted to be an astronaut, I always say that like every other red-blooded boy, I was inspired by the men who flew on Apollo," he said. "Unfortunately, the red-blooded girls didn't have those role models."

Between 1969 and 1972, a total of 12 humans walked on the moon. All of them were American, white and male.

"It was a very homogenous group," former astronaut and NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a speech honoring the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. NASA started recruiting astronauts in 1959, focusing first on military test pilots. All of them were men.


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