Becoming an astronaut is a rigorous process. After being selected, recruits have to endure a lengthy and intense training period before they can head into Space. Understanding the hardware they’ll rely on is vital, as astronauts for the upcoming Artemis II Moon mission experienced during a visit to the Airbus site in Bremen, where Orion’s European Service Module (ESM) - half of the spacecraft that will return humans to the Moon - is designed and manufactured.

Whether it’s swimming in a flight suit or experiencing weightlessness inside a modified aircraft performing parabolic manoeuvres, we may well have seen images of astronauts preparing their bodies for the harsh environment of space. Nevertheless, for Artemis astronauts an equally important part of their preparation is to understand the Orion vehicle they will operate. This was the objective of their recent visit to Bremen, Germany.

“We have a training flow and path to be ready to go to the International Space Station (ISS) but for Artemis, it doesn't exist yet. We are co-creating it, right now, with the team,” said Jeremy Hansen, one of the Artemis II astronauts. 

With Artemis I - the uncrewed Moon-orbiting mission - the spacecraft was subjected to maximum stress to test its performance. The flight was successfully completed in late 2022 and proved that Orion is ready to fly astronauts. “The objective with Artemis II is more to orient the spacecraft towards the life of the crew in the capsule," said Philippe Deloo, Orion ESM Programme Manager for the European Space Agency (ESA). Airbus has been contracted by ESA to build the service modules for NASA under a transatlantic partnership.


“Everyday will be the first day”

NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch and the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen spent two days at the Airbus Bremen site in September 2023. They visited the cleanrooms, where the different modules are integrated, and also met the engineers who designed the spacecraft, starting ten years ago. “Seeing the work that the engineers are putting on every single little surface in that service module, their dedication, has been really impactful. Some engineers have been working on this mission far longer than we have and in some cases longer than I’ve even been an astronaut,” said Christina Koch.

The main task of the Artemis II crew during their ten-day mission will be to test out many of the systems Orion will need on future missions. They will check the vehicle in respect to all aspects of living on board, manoeuvering it manually and ensuring the vehicle is ready.  

“We will take the spacecraft to the corner of the envelope and be confident that we can come home safely if we have an issue. As this flight will be the first one with a crew, it is still difficult to identify precisely the needs. We are part of the testing process by working with the experts, learning from each other,explained Jeremy Hansen.“There are so many unique aspects in this mission as everything is new, everyday will be the first day,” added Victor Glover. 

With this objective in mind, it’s important that the astronauts spend time with the experts who designed and developed the ESM and learn everything about the module that will support them during their mission. Indeed the European Service Module (ESM) is considered the “heart” of the Orion spacecraft. It provides critical functions including propulsion, electrical power generated by solar arrays, thermal control, and last but not least the life support system including oxygen and water. “One of the primary things we have to do is to survive: to eat, sleep, use the bathroom for ten days and the system has to be able to support that,” said Victor Glover.


When meeting the faces behind the machine changes everything

Imagining flying for the first time in a completely new vehicle, in real space conditions, launched at a speed of about 11 kilometers per second, creates a lot of different feelings for the crew. “At the end of the day, something can go wrong that you don’t expect,” said Reid Wiseman. 

Ensuring the crew understands exactly where the spacecraft is going and what it’s doing as well as potential issues with the subsystems are key. Security and safety are at the core of the mission so building a trustful relationship with the Airbus teams significantly contributes to the good mindset of the crew. “Meeting people, seeing the hardware, the operational things we’ve done like this one provide a lot of confidence. For me, human interaction is so important,” said Koch. 

These two days in Bremen allowed the crew to learn more about the ESM, including the redundancies in the systems, to see in reality what they read in the manuals, and exchange in full transparency with the engineers. 

The resulting trust and close cooperation with the ESM team made a positive difference for the crew. 

Crew Team ESM


Artemis Programme in a nutshell:

The Orion spacecraft is part of NASA’s Artemis programme that will carry astronauts from Earth to the lunar vicinity and return them back home. 

The Artemis II crew will orbit around the Moon in 2024.

The Artemis III mission, when humans will land on the Moon, is set for 2025.

The Orion spacecraft is composed of three main components: the crew module, the launch abort system and the European Service Module (ESM).

The ESM provides support to the Orion’s crew module from launch through separation prior to entry. 

ESM 1 flown on Artemis I

ESM 2 is at the Kennedy Space Centre undergoing integration with the crew module

ESM 3, 4, 5 and 6 are in Airbus' cleanrooms in Bremen, Germany

Production rate: one ESM per year.

Infographic (EN)

Within the Artemis programme, NASA will for the first time use European-built service modules to power and supply a human spacecraft mission.