Preparing for liftoff: ‘Moonikin’ to be in commander’s seat for moon mission flight test

NASA’s Orion spacecraft to launch its first mission later this year

NASA is seeking to learn how best to protect astronauts for Artemis II, the first mission with crew. The space agency is doing it with an elaborate body double. (Photo Credit: NASA) (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – NASA’s Orion spacecraft is preparing to launch aboard the powerful Space Launch System rocket later this year for its first mission around the moon. Though it is an uncrewed flight, something will be in the commander’s seat.

A “manikin” will be on board and suited up with sensors, according to NASA. A manikin is an anatomical model of the human body which is often used in medical schools — as opposed to a mannequin, which is used to display fashion. In this case, NASA is calling it a “moonikin” because it will fly around the moon.

The one-of-a-kind outfit will collect data on what actual humans may experience during flight. This mission is called Artemis I, a flight test to pave the way for a successful Artemis II, Orion’s first mission with a crew.

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The manikin’s seat will have two sensors, one under the headrest and the other behind the commander’s chair. The sensors will record acceleration and vibration throughout the mission. The test dummy will also help collect information about the first-generation Orion Crew Survival System suit, an outfit astronauts will wear during launch, entry and other dynamic phases of their mission.

The crew is expected to experience 2.5 times the force of gravity during ascent and four times the force of gravity at two different points during the planned reentry profile, NASA scientists said. Engineers will compare Artemis I flight data with ground-based vibration tests with the same manikin. Such data will also be analyzed in comparison to human subjects to help finalize details of the Artemis II mission.

NASA says this manikin is the perfect test dummy to learn from. The same body double was previously used in a series of Orion vibration tests, both at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to the space agency. These vibration tests helped verify it was an accurate physical representation for testing on Artemis I.

But this test dummy won’t be alone, two phantom torsos will go along for the ride.

During NASA’s Artemis I mission, two identical ‘phantom’ torsos named Helga and Zohar will be equipped with radiation detectors while flying aboard Orion. (Photo Credit: StemRad/NASA) (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The occupants, nicknamed Helga and Zohar, will be in the lower two seats onboard Orion. They will measure the amount of space radiation astronauts may experience on their mission to the moon.

Each of these passengers serves the purpose of making sure the future of spaceflight is safe, according to NASA. The space agency emphasizes these test dummies are the key to the evolution of space exploration and to send the first woman and the next man to the moon.