NASA's Artemis I moon rocket is flying through space for the first time. Meet the mannequins, Snoopy, and 'Shaun the Sheep' dolls along for the ride.
- The Artemis I mission launched on its maiden lunar voyage in the early hours of Wednesday, November 16.
- Mannequins and mementos are hitching a ride aboard NASA's Orion capsule — without people.
NASA's powerful Space Launch System, with the Orion capsule designed to host astronauts perched atop the rocket, is finally on its way to the moon.
While no human is traveling aboard the Artemis I mission, it's not going empty. Mannequins, zero gravity indicators, artifacts, mementos, and more are now embarking on a 25-day journey around the moon and back — farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever gone.
It's a long-awaited first step in the space agency's efforts to get humans back to the surface of the moon for the first time since 1972. If everything goes according to plan, the Space Launch System mega rocket plans to fly the crew capsule all the way around the moon before heading back for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. That splashdown is scheduled for December 11, according to NASA.
Here are some of the cool and colorful cargo making the historic roundtrip to our nearest cosmic neighbor — the moon.
A trio of mannequins
Strapped in the commander's seat at the head of the Orion capsule is a human-sized test dummy called Commander Moonikin Campos. The name is a nod to Arturo Campos, an electrical engineer who played a key role in Apollo 13's safe return to Earth.
Clad in the new Orion Crew Survival System spacesuit, Commander Moonikin will provide NASA scientists with vital data on what humans experience during a trip to the moon. Two sensors placed behind the commander's seat and under the headrest will record the acceleration and vibration generated throughout the mission, and the mannequin itself is equipped with two sensors to measure radiation exposure.
"It's critical for us to get data from the Artemis I manikin to ensure all of the newly designed systems, coupled with an energy dampening system that the seats are mounted on, integrate together and provide the protection crew members will need in preparation for our first crewed mission on Artemis II," Jason Hutt, NASA lead for Orion Crew Systems Integration, said in a statement last year.
Two other mannequins named Helga and Zohar are riding in Orion's passenger seats.
They have torsos made of materials that mimic a woman's soft tissue, organs, and bones, along with 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors to measure how much radiation exposure occurs during the mission. The only difference between the two mannequins is that Zohar is wearing a radiation protection vest, while Helga is not.
"When it comes to biological effects, different organs have different susceptibility to space radiation. Understanding the impact is very important for successful and sustainable human space exploration efforts," Ramona Gaza, science team lead at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said at a news briefing on August 17.
She added that the team is studying how women experience the space environment "as women in general have a higher risk of developing cancer since they have more radiation-sensitive organs such as breast tissue and ovaries."
The space agencies hope studying what these mannequins experience will prepare astronauts planning to fly around the moon on the Artemis II mission in 2024, and the Artemis III astronauts who eventually land on the moon. Insights from Zohar and Helga will be particularly useful, as the Artemis program aims to send the first woman to the moon.
A few cute, zero-gravity indicators
Zero-gravity indicators are small items aboard a spacecraft that serve as a visual indicator that it has entered zero gravity. Artemis I has a couple of cute indicators.
Shaun, of British TV show "Shaun the Sheep" fame, is flying aboard the Artemis I mission in plush doll form.
"This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA," David Parker, the European Space Agency's director for human and robotic exploration, said in a statement. "We're woolly very happy that he's been selected for the mission and we understand that, although it might be a small step for a human, it's a giant leap for lambkind."
To "train" for the journey, Shaun went on a parabolic flight aboard a special Airbus "Zero G" A310 that creates the weightless condition similar to microgravity.
A familiar fuzzy figure is also flying as a zero gravity indicator in the capsule.
Snoopy, the beloved Peanuts character, has long been associated with NASA missions since the Apollo program. In fact, the Apollo 10 lunar module got the nickname "Snoopy" because its job was to snoop around and scout the Apollo 11 landing site on the moon, according to NASA.
A plush version of the beagle — wearing a space suit designed according to NASA's strict specifications — alerted the team once the capsule reached a microgravity environment.
Four Lego Minifigures are taking a ride around the moon on the Artemis I mission.
The figurines also star in Lego's "Build to Launch" series, which was designed in collaboration with NASA, to offer students lessons on different concepts and careers inspired by the Artemis missions.
"Each minifigure represents a real-life counterpart, such as a command pilot Kate and mission specialist Kyle, to help students better understand the diverse roles, backgrounds, and skillsets within the Artemis I team," Lego Education said in a statement in November 2021.
NASA aims to set up permanent bases in the moon's orbit and on its surface, paving the way to eventually send astronauts to Mars.
Reliably cultivating crops in space will be necessary for would-be space travelers to survive longer missions. To that end, the space agency wants to understand how to grow plants in space for food and oxygen on the moon or during space missions.
A variety of tree and plant seeds are on board Artemis I as part of experiments to study the effects of space radiation on them. According to a statement by Sharmila Bhattacharya, NASA program scientist for space biology, they'll "help us understand a unique aspect of how biological systems can adapt and thrive in deep space."
"Gathering information like this and analyzing it after flight will eventually help us paint the full picture of how we can help humans thrive in deep space," Bhattacharya added.
Space exploration artifacts
As part of Artemis I's Official Flight Kit, which contains about 120 pounds of mementos, several artifacts from previous space missions are in the Orion spacecraft.
A small piece of moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission, an Apollo 11 mission patch, and a bolt from one of Apollo 11's F-1 engines are along for the ride.
Objects of cultural significance are also on the roundtrip journey, including a 3D-printed replica of the Greek goddess Artemis, and a pebble from the lowest dry land surface on Earth, the shore of the Dead Sea — venturing further than any human has gone before.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on August 18, 2022.
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