Canada signs deal to send first astronaut on U.S. mission around the moon


OTTAWA, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Canada will for the first time send an astronaut to circle the moon on a U.S. mission planned for 2023, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said on Wednesday, announcing a formal deal with Washington.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence last week unveiled an 18-strong pool of people who could go to the moon under NASA's Artemis program, which Canada is now a part of.

Artemis is designed to send several missions to the Moon. The Canadian astronaut - who has yet to be named - will take part in the second trip, which is scheduled to fly around the moon on a 10-day journey in 2023.

"All eyes will look to the sky as one of our astronauts becomes the first Canadian to travel around the moon," Bains told a news conference.

Canada and the United States have a long history of cooperation in space. Bains also said a Canadian astronaut would one day fly to the Lunar Gateway, an outpost NASA plans to build that will orbit the moon sometime within the next decade.

Canada built the Canadarm robotic arms which were initially installed on some of the U.S. space shuttles and then the International Space Station. Canada has already signed a deal to build a new Canadarm for the Lunar Gateway.

The United States aims to put an astronaut on the moon in 2024. Some in the U.S. space agency and American space industry view this as unrealistic and the target could well be pushed back after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

The last astronauts to actually tread on the moon were the crew of Apollo 17 in December 1972.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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