NASA’s next Artemis I mission to the moon, scheduled for later this year, will not have a human crew, but the space agency is prepping three lifeless Orion capsule passengers to record radiation and vibrations.
Mannikins from the Artemis I “crew” will assist NASA in testing radiation, vibration, and landing impacts before the space agency prepares to deploy humans in an Orion spacecraft by 2023.
That trip will be the first time astronauts have travelled into Deep Space since the Apollo missions concluded in 1972.
New data is needed because NASA’s technology, spacecraft and medical understanding have advanced significantly since the last lunar missions half a century ago, according to the space agency.
Two of the mannikins, are designed with materials to mimic bone and human organs. Named Zohar and Helga, they will be festooned with over 2,000 dosimeters to help NASA understand space radiation exposure.
NASA refers to Zohar and Helga as phantoms. One will wear a protective radiation vest and one will not.
The third mannikin is a human-sized rubber dummy used to teach cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which will have two dosimeters, as well as vibration sensors, Mark Baldwin, engineer and program manager for NASA contractor Lockheed Martin, said in an interview.
“The Artemis I flight really is our golden opportunity to get all of these sorts of measurements from mannikins in seats,” Baldwin said. “That’s because once we have astronauts in the capsule, there’s a lot less room for all this equipment.”
Such measurements will help Baldwin and other NASA experts adjust Orion equipment for the upcoming journeys to the moon.
Baldwin underwent seven hours of vibration testing over two days at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in 2017 to help him understand the astronaut experience. He said the greatest risk to Orion occupants may be the impact upon splashdown in the ocean.
“It would be a terrible shame for the Artemis mission to go perfectly the whole time and then our crew gets injured in the last 250 feet, so we have to make sure we understand the impact and vibrations,” Baldwin said.
During takeoff and landing, two sensors on the nameless mannikin’s seat will monitor the pressure of the “body” on the seat. The extra dosimeters will be tucked inside its pockets to supplement the ones on the phantoms.
According to Ramona Gaza, project manager of NASA’s Crew Active Dosimeter project, NASA and other space organisations will conduct many testing and comparisons of the radiation mannikins’ data.
For example, as the spaceship travels through the Earth’s radiation field, known as the Van Allen belt, the dosimeters should indicate a surge in radiation.
“There’s so much information that needs to be analyzed and compared and understood,” Gaza said. “The additional two dosimeters on the third mannikin will give us a few additional data points to compare.”
New data is needed regarding Deep Space exposure to radiation, since astronauts haven’t been on such long journeys for decades, Gaza said.
The radiation mannikins were part of NASA’s effort to make the Artemis missions international, she said.
The Israel Space Agency and the German Aerospace Center contributed and named the radiation mannikins.
NASA recently announced a social media contest to name the third mannikin. Early findings have limited the field to Ace, Delos, Campos, and Rigel.
Ace stands for Artemis Crew Explorer. Delos is the Greek mythological island where Artemis and Apollo were born. Campos refers to late NASA engineer Arturo Campos, who was important in returning the Apollo 13 crew home after an explosion in orbit interrupted their mission to the moon. And Rigel is the brightest star in the Orion constellation.
NASA expects to announce a winner of the naming contest Tuesday.