Look to CNN for live coverage from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, beginning Saturday morning through launch Monday morning. Space correspondents Kristin Fisher and Rachel Crane will bring us instant coverage of the launch, along with a team of experts.
Rather than astronauts, a mannequin named Commander Moonikin Campos will lead the Orion spacecraft, with two mannequin torsos called Helga and Zohar for the ride.
The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon and eventually deliver astronauts to Mars.
The inaugural mission will test the new Space Launch System rocket, the Orion spacecraft and several components designed to make deep space travel safer for humans.
Mannequins in a spaceship with an enviable view of the moon might seem like kind of a joke, but these three passengers will serve as canaries in the space coal mine.
Orion will travel 40,000 miles (64,373 kilometers) beyond the moon, breaking the record set by Apollo 13, to go further than any spacecraft intended to carry humans.
That’s a far cry from low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station circles the Earth. Future Orion crews will be exposed to deep space radiation, especially when venturing for longer stays on the moon and departing for Mars.
The suit was designed for Artemis astronauts to wear during launch and reentry, and it is equipped with two radiation sensors.
It can support a crew member for up to six days in the event of an emergency in space, something that has never been attempted before, said Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“You can almost think of it as a custom spacecraft – a secondary but much more custom spacecraft that protects the crew member, provides them with pressure, oxygen, cooling and everything else. Ilife-sustaining functions that are needed,” Gohmert said.
With new safety features, Commander Moonikin Campos’ seat resembles that of a racing car, with a cocoon forming around its occupant, he said. The seat has shock absorbers in case of landing in rough seas or other scenarios.
Twin models Helga and Zohar have a separate mission. Both torsos are based on phantoms, used for radiotherapy planning in hospitals, said Thomas Berger, Helga and Zohar principal investigator at the German Aerospace Center.
Both phantoms are made of materials that mimic a woman’s soft tissue, organs and bones. Their epoxy resin shapes even look like human lung and brain tissue for test how radiation passes through the human body.
The torsos have more than 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors to measure the amount of radiation exposure occurring in different organs during the mission.
Zohar will wear AstroRad, a radiation protection vest, to test its effectiveness if future crews encounter a solar storm, while Helga will be unprotected.
Solar storms triggered by the sun can last for days or weeks. AstroRad developers hope the vest will allow future Artemis crews to continue performing daily activities despite space weather. The vest is made of thousands of protective cores which can protect vital human organs from solar energy particles.
Fight against space radiation
Different organs have different susceptibilities to space radiation, said Ramona Gaza, MARE science team leader at Johnson Space Center.
The MARE project aims to measure differences between how specific organs, such as the brain, respond to radiation.
Previously, different radiation exposure limits had been set for astronauts on the space station.
“Millisieverts measure the health effect of low doses of ionizing radiation on the human body,” according to the report.
Not all scientists have accepted previous studies showing discrepancies in men’s and women’s different responses to radiation, Gaza said.
Data returned from the Artemis I mission could impact the standard limit for male and female astronauts.
“The United States of America is half man, half woman. Well, space should be at least that,” said Reid Wiseman, chief of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center. “So if we can’t make these spacecraft fair and we can’t get any type of person to fly on them, then we have to look at our systems and re-evaluate them.”
Meanwhile, NASA astronauts are doing everything they can to prepare for Artemis missions by training in virtual reality situations and in environments that simulate lunar conditions, he said.
The agency hopes to announce the crew of Artemis II, which is expected to take astronauts on a similar trip around the moon, later this year, according to Wiseman. Artemis II is expected to launch in 2024.
“To me, it’s just the most impressive time we’ve had here at NASA,” Wiseman said.