Science

Who Gets to Go to Space?

No humans, this time.

Snoopy wearing a spacesuit—actually, three Snoopies.
Photo by Jida Li on Unsplash

Monday was supposed to be a glorious day for the future of moon travel, as the Artemis I prepared to launch from the Kennedy Space Launch Center. Unfortunately, due to an engine failure, the mission was delayed. If all goes well, Artemis I will take off on Friday (at the earliest) and will begin orbiting the moon a few weeks later.

The hope is that Artemis I will pave the way for crewed moon missions. The last time humans journeyed to the moon was NASA’s Apollo 17 Mission in 1972. And the only people who have been there are white dudes—the plan for future Artemis missions is to send women and people of color to the moon, and maybe down the line even get some people to Mars.

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This launch is mostly meant to test out NASA’s new Space Launch System Rocket, the Orion spacecraft, and other features that will hopefully make the voyage to space safer for humans. But there will still be some passengers making the 1.3 million mile journey to the moon and back this time around.

Moonikin Campos

“Commanding” the mission is “Moonikin Campos,” a manikin named by the public in honor of Arturo Campos, a NASA engineer who was instrumental in saving the Apollo 13 astronauts. According to a press release from NASA, Campos (the manikin) will be placed in the commander’s seat inside the rocket, and wear an Orion Crew Survival System suit, “the same spacesuit that Artemis astronauts will use during launch, entry, and other dynamic phases of their missions.” Campos will also be donning sensors to record radiation, acceleration, and vibration data—information that can help guide NASA’s next mission, Artemis II.

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Helga and Zohar

Campos is not the only manikin onboard Artemis I—he’ll also be joined by Helga and Zohar, two manikins that are designed to mimic the adult female body. And while both Helga and Zohar are included in the mission to investigate how female forms would respond to space radiation—both will have radiation detectors, but only Zohar will be wearing a radiation protection vest.

Snoopy

On Artemis I, a Snoopy plushie will serve as a visual zero-gravity indicator for the team on the ground. When he begins to float, it’ll be clear the spacecraft has entered zero gravity (he’s light and soft enough that his sudden floatation won’t break anything).

While Artemis I marks Snoopy’s first trip to the moon, he’s been part of missions for as long as we’ve been sending people to the moon. During the Apollo Era, Snoopy was a mascot for the “NASA spaceflight safety initiative,” aimed at convincing the public that spaceflight is indeed safe. Comic strips of Snoopy on the Moon helped garner excitement about American space travel.

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Snoopy also inspired the name of the Apollo 10 lunar module (a spacecraft that allows astronauts to land on the moon). As a NASA press release explains, in 1969 the Apollo 10 crew journeyed to the moon for one last check. “The mission required the lunar module to skim the Moon’s surface to within 50,000 feet and ‘snoop around’ scouting the Apollo 11 landing site, leading the crew to name the lunar module ‘Snoopy.’”

Snoopy later made his way to space himself—but not the moon—on the Columbia shuttle in 1990 as part of the STS-32 mission.

Shaun the Sheep

The European Space Agency has also arranged for a stuffed animal of beloved stop-motion-sheep to join the crew of nonhuman passengers. As David Parker, director for human and robotic exploration at ESA, notes in a press release, it’s a “giant leap for lambkind.”

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