Anyone who has seen the movie “Apollo 13” or read anything about the Apollo moon missions should know that the crews on these space trips consisted of three and only three humans – always three men – and no other known passengers. The last voyage was in 1972 and it has taken 50 years for the space agency to return to Earth’s only satellite. That mission is scheduled to launch on August 29, 2022, and NASA has fittingly decided to place a special ‘crew’ on board that not only outnumbers the Apollos but also adds diversity of both the gender and species kind. That’s right – the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will be carrying one man, two women, a dog and a sheep to the Moon and back. Wait … what? And didn’t you just hear that the Artemis I mission had no crew?
The mission commander on Artemis I is Captain Moonikin Campos, a male-bodied mannequin or ‘manikin’. Captain Campos (named for Arturo Campos, a NASA electrical engineer who helped devise the solution that got the Apollo 13 crew back to Earth safely after an explosion knocked out their power) will ‘sit’ in the commander’s seat and be dressed in an official Orion Crew Survival System suit just like the live Artemis astronauts will wear during launch, entry and other mission phases. Captain Campos will fittingly be electrically wired to acceleration and vibration measurement instruments, as well as radiation sensors.
By now you’ve hopefully figured out that the mission crew is not humans but mannequins, whose purpose is to make future Moon missions safe for the astronaut crews, which for the first time will include women. That makes the next two crew members the real stars of Artemis I.
“As part of the Artemis I mission, Helga and Zohar, the two phantoms, will fly in the passenger seats of Orion during its first flight to the Moon. Zohar will wear a newly developed radiation protection vest (AstroRad) from the Israeli partner StemRad. The phantoms will fly on behalf of two female astronauts. They are being equipped with radiation sensors at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne.”
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) is Germany’s national center for aerospace, energy and transportation research, and the organization responsible for MARE – the MATROSHKA AstroRad Radiation Experiment. Space radiation is a major health risk for all humans, but especially for females, whose bodies are more sensitive to the effects of ionizing radiation. MARE is the first experiment to measure the radiation exposure to the female body beyond the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS), and Helga and Zohar, although identical, will be performing different tests during their nearly 42-day flight around the Moon.
“Zohar will be wearing an AstroRad protective vest, which is being tested during this flight, while Helga will fly unprotected. Both mannequins are made of materials that mimic the bones, soft tissues and organs of adult women, so that the radiation dose can be measured in the organs that are particularly sensitive to radiation.”
Thomas Berger, Project Manager at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, helped assemble Helga and Zohar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The womanikins are 95 cm (3.1 feet) long and filled with lifelike organs, bones and tissue connected to a total of 1400 sensors with both passive and active radiation detectors integrated into the most radiation-sensitive organs of the female body - lungs, stomach, uterus and bone marrow. The active, battery-operated detectors will be switched on at various times while the passive ones will be collecting data during the entire mission. For budding young scientists and future astronauts, their status can be monitored on social media at #LunaTwins.
“Shaun’s mission assignment rounds off the first phase for the latest members of our astronaut corps, with Italian ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti currently on the International Space Station on her second spaceflight, Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen named for his second flight and before we introduce our new astronauts from the 2021 call for selection later this year. This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA. 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.”
That pun-ishing announcement comes from the ESA’s Director for Human and Robotic Exploration Dr. David Parker. Shaun the Sheep is the star of a British stop-motion television series and a spin-off of the Wallace and Gromit franchise created by Nick Park. To help generate interest in its space missions, the ESA has used a stuffed version of the character, who also went into space in his film Farmageddon, on a special Airbus ‘Zero G’ A310 aircraft during one of its parabolic flights that recreates ‘weightless’ conditions for astronauts in training. Shaun has also been taken to locations in Europe and the U.S. to showcase different aspects of the mission. As he becomes the first sheep to reach the Moon, Shaun will report his experiences on a blog.
That leaves the dog. If you’re familiar with the history of the U.S. Apollo space program, you may remember that in 1969 Apollo 10 took astronauts Gene Cernan, John Young and Thomas Stafford to the Moon but didn’t allow them to land. Instead, the lunar module was sent down to within 50,000 feet of the lunar surface to "snoop around" the Apollo 11 landing site. As a result, the lunar module was named "Snoopy" after the dog in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoon strip, and the command module was named "Charlie Brown."
A stuffed version of Snoopy made its first trip into space in 1990 on the space shuttle Columbia during the STS-32 mission. Like the ESA, NASA has used Snoopy to stimulate interest in space missions and STEM-based school courses. For the Artemis I mission, Snoopy will wear a custom orange flight suit complete with gloves, boots, and a NASA patch. Kids can follow his trip on social media, via school videos and on the “Snoopy in Space” series.
One man, two women, a dog and a sheep. A lot of small steps for a manikin and womanikins, plus a lot of scooping.