Early Wednesday morning, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission arrived at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad in preparation for its history-making return to the moon. Artemis 1’s journey will provide a route for astronauts, including those from Canada, to reach the moon and perhaps one day Mars.
The Orion spacecraft now sits atop NASA’s newest and most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS, on Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B. Scheduled for launch on August 29, Orion is being prepared for flight since Apollo 17 in 1972 as the first human-certified spacecraft to fly on a lunar mission.
The Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket stand by at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B on August 17, 2022. Photo credit: NASA
In 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to reach the moon and complete 10 orbits before returning to Earth. Three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, were on board during the mission.
In contrast, Artemis 1 will be an unmanned mission, piloted from the ground during its 42-day flight around the moon and back.
Artemis 1’s trajectory is detailed in this infographic. Photo credit: NASA
Unscrewed, but not empty
However, the Orion spacecraft will not be completely empty.
The three seats in the capsule are occupied by specially designed mannequins. One named Commander Moonikin Campos is fitted with sensors to test the stresses astronauts will be subjected to on future flights. Meanwhile, two mannequin torsos, or phantoms, named Helga and Zohar will be sending back data on radiation exposure during the voyage.
Flight test mannequin Commander Moonikin Campos sits in his flight suit prior to the Artemis 1 flight. Inset lower right: The identical “phantom” torsos Helga and Zohar are fitted with more than 5,600 passive sensors and 34 active radiation detectors to measure radiation exposure as part of the Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE). Photo credit: NASA
According to NASA, “Each of these purposeful passengers aboard Orion educates on the working conditions and safety of the astronauts, helping NASA and its partners to better prepare for the potentially damaging effects of space missions for space travel further from Earth and of longer duration – and to minimize than ever before.”
These mannequins will not be entirely alone on this first return trip to the moon.
Riding with them is a small plush doll of Shaun the Sheep (of Wallace & Gromit fame), provided by the European Space Agency.
“As one of the first astronauts to fly an Artemis mission, Shaun is at the forefront of lunar exploration, a great honor for our furry adventurer!” Lucy Wendover, director of marketing at Aardman, the animation studio that created Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep , said in an ESA press release.
Shaun the Sheep from the Claymation films Wallace & Gromit and the TV series Shaun the Sheep poses in his ESA flight suit in front of a model of the Orion Service Module. Photo credit: ESA
Included in the collection of memorabilia flying into space in the Artemis 1 Official Flight Kit is the rest of Orion’s “Passenger” roster – four LEGO minifigures designed for LEGO Education’s Build to Launch program, and a unique Snoopy plush that will act as the mission’s zero-g indicator.
Left: Four LEGO minifigures taking the journey to the moon with Artemis 1 stand in front of the Orion service module. Credit: NASA/Radislaw Sinjak. Right: A unique Snoopy doll serves as the mission’s zero-g indicator. Source: 2021 Peanuts Worldwide LLC provided by NASA
READ: NASA Launches Tiny CAPSTONE To Carve Unique New ‘Track’ Around Moon
Also a science mission!
NASA wouldn’t send a mission to the moon without carrying as many scientific payloads as possible.
In addition to the scientific instruments collecting data on what future manned missions will experience on their flight, Orion will carry biological experiments and technology demonstrations.
One such demonstration called Callisto has a very “Star Trek” feel to it.
Combining the technologies of Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant with Cisco’s Webex video conferencing system, Callisto will allow NASA controllers on the ground to retrieve information and issue commands to Orion using voice commands.
From this workstation at Mission Control in Houston, Howard Hu, Orion’s assistant program manager, and Brian Jones, Lockheed Martin’s chief engineer for the Callisto project, observe signals from the Orion spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during a Callisto test Florida system. Photo credit: NASA
According to NASA: * “Participants will help with the demonstration by asking Alexa a question or giving a task command in front of a console with a camera and microphone. Their images and voices are transmitted from Mission Control to Orion, where video of the participants is displayed on the tablet and audio is played through the speaker, and then Alexa picks up the audio and responds. Cameras inside the spacecraft record all interaction and relay it back over the network to the room in mission control, where participants can also see and hear the session.”*
If Callisto works, future spaceflights could be a bit more like flying on the spaceship companyas astronauts and their spacecraft exchange information simply by talking to each other.
Nearly a dozen CubeSats will fly into space with Orion, to be used on a variety of missions of its own, from studying the moon and the effects of cosmic radiation to demonstrating new space propulsion systems.
WATCH BELOW: NASA will send science experiments to the moon and back on the Artemis I mission
NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) will also hitchhike into space with Orion and SLS. After separating from the rocket, this tiny spacecraft will shadow Orion until it reaches the moon. At that point, it will set off on its own using a solar sail that uses the sun’s light to propel the spacecraft to its destination — a near-Earth asteroid called 2020 GE.
This artist’s concept art shows NEA Scout investigating a near-Earth asteroid. Photo credit: NASA
According to NASA, it will take NEA Scout about two years to fly about 150 million kilometers, or about the same distance as Earth from the Sun, to reach this asteroid.
“Once it reaches its target, NEA Scout will acquire a series of images of its target – from 50 cm/pixel to 10 cm/pixel – that will be used by scientists on Earth to better understand the object,” NASA said .
Check out the launch
After a nearly 10-hour overnight drive from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, the Orion and SLS are now ready.
Although weather or technical issues may delay launch, the Artemis 1 mission is currently scheduled to lift off during a two-hour window that opens at 8:33 a.m. EDT on Monday, August 29. Live coverage of the event will be streamed by NASA TV, beginning at least an hour before the launch window opens.
In the meantime, the teams will check the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket to make sure they’re on time for launch.