There are no humans on board Artemis I. However, that doesn’t mean the passenger seats are empty. In this post, we take a look at the toys and mannequins aboard the first mission to the moon in fifty years, and at what they might be able to teach us about spaceflight.
In place of crew, Artemis I has three mannequins on board: Commander Moonikin Campos, Helga and Zohar. Hopefully, these mannequins will be able to tell us more about how to protect astronauts on journeys through space.
Moonikin Campos is named after Arturo Campos, who helped safely return the crew of Apollo 13 to Earth in 1970 after one of the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks exploded. Moonikin is wearing the same type of suit human astronauts are expected to wear on later Artemis moon missions, and is strapped into a seat equipped with acceleration and vibration sensors. By measuring the actual acceleration and vibration astronauts will experience on Artemis rockets, engineers will be able to improve the accuracy of vibration tests astronauts go through on Earth.
Helga and Zohar’s role is to tell us more about the potential impact of cosmic radiation on astronauts. On Earth, we’re largely protected from space radiation by our planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field. However, astronauts in space don’t have that protection.
Moonikin Campos also has two radiation sensors, but Helga and Zohar are designed to give us more detailed information about radiation. Although Helga and Zohar are made of plastic, they’re similar in density to actual human bodies, and they contain small crystals in parts of the body that are particularly vulnerable to radiation. These crystals can gather and store radiation, meaning they can tell us how much radiation the mannequins have been exposed to and where it’s concentrated. Similar mannequins are used in hospitals to inform cancer treatments.
Unlike Helga, Zohar is wearing a radiation protection vest, so we’ll also be able to see how much of a difference this equipment makes to radiation exposure.
Artemis I has a fourth passenger, who’s a bit of a celebrity: Shaun the Sheep, in toy form.
As far as we know, Shaun isn’t equipped with any sensors and won’t be telling us much about radiation. Shaun’s already had a brush with alien life in the film Farmageddon, though, so perhaps that experience has left him wanting to know more about what’s beyond Earth. The European Space Agency (ESA) took Shaun through astronaut training in 2019 in preparation for his role in the film, and were evidently impressed enough by his performance to give him a seat on Artemis I.
We also like to think Shaun’s excursion to the moon will help to capture the imagination of the next generation of astronauts.
Snoopy, the dog from Charles M Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, is another animal celebrity joining the Artemis I mission. Snoopy is already an experienced astronaut; in 1990, he joined the STS-32 mission and spent about eleven days in space on the space shuttle Columbia.
In fact, Snoopy’s history with space goes back even further than that. The lunar module for the May 1969 moon mission Apollo 10 was called Snoopy; the command module was named Charlie Brown, after Snoopy’s owner. Snoopy was used to investigate the planned landing site for Apollo 11, a mission that took place two months later, during which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon.
Since 1968, there’s been a tradition within NASA of recognising outstanding achievements with the Silver Snoopy Award: a silver Snoopy pin that’s awarded to NASA employees and contractors by astronauts. Each Snoopy pin has previously been to space, and there are some aboard Artemis I to be issued to future award winners.
Snoopy is also aboard Artemis I in the form of a small soft toy, equipped with his own custom-made flight suit; you can see him in this NASA video on YouTube. Unlike his mannequin crewmates, he’s not strapped into a seat, because his role is to serve as a zero gravity indicator. When Snoopy started to float on camera, the mission team watching from Earth knew that Artemis I had reached the apparent weightlessness of microgravity. Being small and soft, he can float around without causing any damage.
Although Artemis I isn’t carrying any people into space, it’s the first in a planned series of missions to bring humanity back to the moon and, ultimately, perhaps to Mars. The universe is a vast and fascinating place, and we’ve barely brushed the fringes of it. We’re looking forward to finding out what we discover by taking the next steps.
If these new developments have put you in the mood to look back at the beginnings of space exploration, take a look at our article on Sputnik 1.
Cover image: NASA/Joel Kowsky
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