HOUSTON — It was a virtual meeting. NASA astronaut Christina Koch was sure of it. But when she logged on to her computer a couple of weeks ago and searched for the meeting link, she realized there was no link.
So she texted her boss, and asked, “’Hey, can we meet virtually?’ And he said, ‘Nope. You’re going to want to be in-person for this one.’”
So she hopped in her car and made the drive across town to the Johnson Space Center, home of NASA’s astronaut corps.
“I was late. Very late,” she said. “I realized when I got to the room that it was a bigger meeting than I realized.”
She was being assigned to NASA’s Artemis II mission, the first to return people to the vicinity of the moon since the last of the Apollo missions, some 50 years ago.
Astronaut crew assignments are notoriously secretive. Not even astronauts know how they get selected for missions. And this was going to be the biggest crew assignment in a generation, the next step in NASA’s return to the moon. But the astronaut office was having a hard time corralling its astronauts.
Koch wasn’t the only one who was late. Victor Glover was running late, too, having lunch with some of his staff and texting his apologies.
Reid Wiseman, who would be named the commander of the mission, thought he was going to have to miss it entirely. He was across town at a doctor’s appointment. On his calendar, the meeting was listed as an update on what was happening with a troubled Russian spacecraft docked at the International Space Station that had sprung a leak. He had no idea what was really in store.
“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” he recalled texting his boss, Joe Acaba, the chief astronaut.
“It’s not about what you think it is,” Acaba responded. “You have to get here.”
So Wiseman started to dial in remotely. But just then the doctor walked in, so he shut off his phone.
Some 40 minutes later, after the appointment was done, he texted Acaba again. “Is it too late to join?
No, Acaba told him. Dial in. So Wiseman did. And learned he’d be named to the crew as he was walking down the hallway of the doctor’s office and then settling in behind the wheel of his truck.
Acaba had recently gathered his troops and laid out his priorities for being the new chief astronaut.
“And one of the things he talked about was punctuality, being on time,” Glover said.
And yet: “One way or another all of us were late.”
“I like for people to be on time,” Acaba said in an interview.