NASA is preparing to try again. After failing to launch on Aug. 29, the space agency’s Artemis-1 rocket just announced that September 27 is the next launch date for its trip around the moon mission. Although there will be no crew on board and most of the flight will be controlled by onboard computers, a small alcove will comfortably seat Peanuts’ well-known household comics character-dog, Snoopy, who will play his part in the mission.
According to the space agency, it has a 70-minute window to attempt a launch that day, beginning at 11:37 a.m. ET, when hopefully the weather will cooperate. Remember, this is hurricane season and anything can brew in the Caribbean over the next week. You may recall that the first stitch on one launch had to be scrubbed due to engine problems, and when NASA attempted the second launch a few days later, a hydrogen fuel cooling leak occurred. If it’s a no-go on the 27th, the next launch date is scheduled for October 2nd.
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NASA is banking on its new Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket to launch Artemis I across the moon, travel more than 280,000 miles from Earth and return safely. Sitting in the seats, as if “piloting” the spacecraft, will be astronaut-like mannequins, along with Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep – a character from a British television series (and a Wallace and Gromit spin-off). Everyone has a job to do.
Since Orion is a brand new starship, no one really knows what forces and accelerations will be exerted on future occupants in the cockpit. Sure, you can simulate with all computer models, but NASA is taking no chances this time. To monitor the journey, they equipped the three astronaut-like plastic figures with sensors that provide important data about what the crew members can experience during a trip to the moon.
The first mannequin, called “Captain Moonikin Campos,” is named after Arturo Campos, a NASA engineer during the Apollo program in the 1960s, and he will take the commander’s seat on the Orion. Its shape is equipped with two radiation sensors that detect cosmic rays during the voyage, which on the Apollo flights were so strong that the traveling astronauts saw flashes of light in their closed eyes, interfering with their much-needed sleep periods. Moonikin Campos will wear the Orion Crew Survival System suit, which future astronauts will wear during launch, entry, and other dynamic phases of their missions. Its seat also has sensors that record acceleration and vibration data during the mission.
Sitting alongside “Commander” Campos are two other smaller plastic “bodies” in the form of torsos named Helga and Zohar, who will take part in the Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment that NASA is collaborating on with the German Aerospace Center and Israel Space Agency participating will measure radiation exposure during the mission. The Zohar form is shielded with the Astrorad radiation vest, which is equipped with sensors to determine radiation risks, but Helga is not.
Since from a medical point of view it is believed that women are more susceptible to the harmful effects of ionizing radiation than men, these devices measure radiation exposure as a function of body position, with both passive and active dosimeters distributed in sensitive tissues. The test will measure the effectiveness of the special vest in protecting sensitive organs, much like a dentist’s X-ray blanket, from intercepting high-energy particles from space. This data will come in handy when protecting astronauts on much longer journeys like the 500-day mission to Mars planned for 2033.
But why is Snoopy hitchhiking?
Snoopy has a long association with NASA, beginning in May 1969 when Apollo 10 astronauts Gene Cernan, John Young, and Thomas Stafford traveled all the way to the moon to verify a lunar landing attempt. Although they did not land their vehicle, the mission required the lunar module to scan the lunar surface to within 50,000 feet and “sniff around,” prompting the crew to nickname the lunar module “Snoopy.” The Apollo Command Module was nicknamed “Charlie Brown” after Snoopy’s loyal owner. You may remember the iconic comic strip that was published starring Snoopy as “The First Beagle on the Moon”.
The famous Peanuts character will be outfitted in a custom-made orange flight suit with gloves, boots and a NASA patch, and will act as a zero-gravity indicator. In previous flights, such indicators were a small object carried on board the spacecraft to visually indicate when the capsule will reach microgravity weightlessness. Will Snoopy actually fly around the cabin?
A pen tip used by cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of Snoopy, also fits. Schulz died in 2000, but the museum, which carries on his legacy, provided the quill, which will be wrapped in a space comic. In addition, LEGO figures, tree seeds and some Apollo 11 artifacts will be among the other items carried onboard the flight.
Gary Hanington is Professor Emeritus of Physics at Great Basin College. He can be reached at [email protected]