NASA is sending two artificial female bodies to the moon to study the risks of space radiation for women astronauts.
The manikins, affectionately called ‘Helga’ and ‘Zohar’, will launch aboard the Orion spacecraft from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in August.
Helga and Zohar have ’tissue-equivalent materials of variable density’ that replicate the proportions of a woman’s body, including bone and soft tissue.
Sensors have been fitted in the most radiation-sensitive areas of their ‘bodies’ – chest, stomach, uterus and bone marrow.
The two female ‘phantoms’ will occupy passenger seats during Orion’s first mission around the Moon, going further than any human has flown before.
Helga and Zohar are dummies destined for a pioneering lunar flyby to help protect space travelers from cosmic rays and energetic solar storms
WHAT IS ARTEMIS I?
Artemis I is a planned uncrewed test flight for NASA’s Artemis programme, comprising the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
It’s set to blast off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than August 2022.
The primary operations goal of the mission is to assure a safe crew module entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery.
In addition to sending Orion on its journey around the Moon, SLS will carry 10 small satellites that will perform their own science and technology investigations.
Artemis I will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate a capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II.
Helga and Zohar will launch on Artemis I, NASA’s uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, from Kennedy Space Center.
The delayed Artemis I mission, which may last up to six weeks, will act as a test for NASA’s plan to send the first woman to the Moon in 2025.
The Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE) has been devised by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, Germany.
DLR confirmed in a statement that it had delivered the bodies to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for installation.
‘We are looking to find out exactly how radiation levels affect female astronauts over the course of an entire flight to the Moon, and which protective measures might help to counteract this,’ said Thomas Berger, head of the biophysics group in the Radiation Biology Department at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine.
‘Over the past few months at the DLR sites in Cologne and Bremen, we have been studying the phantoms – Helga and Zohar – thoroughly, including conducting tests to determine the effects of the vibrations that they will be subjected to during the launch of the Artemis I mission.
‘The aim is to ensure that everything runs smoothly later at the Kennedy Space Center.’
When astronauts leave Earth’s atmosphere, they are exposed to the full spectrum of radiation found in space.
A total of 75 women have flown in space – including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and space station participants – but flying to the moon will expose them to different types of radiation than simply going into orbit around the Earth or to the International Space Station (ISS).
The moon doesn’t have a thick atmosphere or a magnetic field like Earth does, so it doesn’t have the protection from radiation exposure. The ISS is in low-Earth orbit, so it is within Earth’s protective barrier.
Astronauts on the Moon will be exposed to radiation 2.6 times higher than on board the ISS, according to a 2020 study.
Helga will fly unprotected to the Moon, while Zohar (top) will wear a newly developed radiation protection vest, called the AstroRad
Artemis 1 mission will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft. Pictured is a cutaway of Orion showing Helga and Zohar and above them another male manikin called Campos
WHAT TYPES OF RADIATION DO ASTRONAUTS ENCOUNTER IN SPACE?
When astronauts leave Earth, they are exposed to the full spectrum of radiation found in space.
The Orion spacecraft will experience two periods of intense radiation as it flies through the Van Allen Belt – once in the first few hours after launch and upon its return to Earth – which harbours charged particles trapped by Earth’s magnetic field.
Beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, Orion will face a harsher radiation environment than the crew of the International Space Station (ISS), which is in low Earth orbit.
Outside the Van Allen Belt, the space radiation environment includes energetic particles produced by the Sun in solar flares as well as galactic and extragalactic cosmic ray particles that originate from outside the Solar System.
‘Cosmic rays are a particular challenge for long missions in open space, because they deliver a continuous level of high-energy ionised particles,’ said Christine Hellweg at DLR’s Radiation Biology Department.
‘Particles in cosmic rays range from hydrogen to iron and uranium.’
The Orion spacecraft will experience two periods of intense radiation as it flies through the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt – once in the first few hours after launch and upon its return to Earth – which harbours charged particles trapped by Earth’s magnetic field.
According to DLR experts, the female body is more sensitive to this radiation than the male body in organs such as the breasts.
However, so far there have been no sex-specific measurements using manikins or ‘phantoms’ in space.
Both Helga and Zohar are just over three feet (95cm) tall and weigh 36 kilograms.
They are made up of 38 ‘slices’ of tissue-equivalent plastics that mimic the varying density of bones, soft tissue and lungs.
Similar dummies are used in hospitals to quantify the right dose of radiation for cancer therapies.
One of them – Helga – will fly unprotected to the Moon, while Zohar will wear a newly developed radiation protection vest, called the AstroRad, which is made of polyethylene to better block harmful protons in space.
By comparing the two sets of data, it will be possible to determine the extent to which the vest could protect an astronaut from harmful radiation exposure.
On the flight, which is set to launch no earlier than August, they will be joined by a third male manikin, named Campos after former NASA engineer Arturo Campos.
Campos will be equipped with two radiation sensors and have additional sensors under its headrest and behind its seat to record acceleration and vibration data throughout the mission.
The male-bodied manikin, previously used in Orion vibration tests, received its name as the result of a competitive bracket contest honouring NASA figures, programs or astronomical objects.
The final bracket challenge was between Campos and Delos, a reference to the island where Apollo and Artemis were born, according to Greek mythology.
They are not the first space manikins; a phantom called Matroshka, developed by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, was deployed on the ISS between 2004 and 2011.
Helga and Zohar will launch on Artemis I, NASA’s uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, from Kennedy Space Center
Pictured, engineers use a suited manikin to conduct vibration testing at Kennedy Space Center. The manikin will fly aboard the Orion spacecraft during the Artemis I mission, an uncrewed flight test flight due for November. All importantly, the manikin, or ‘Moonikin’, now has a name – Campos, after former NASA engineer Arturo Campos
Mounted to the exterior of the ISS, the phantom gathered radiation readings representative of those experienced by an astronaut performing a spacewalk.
The phantom was also placed in different parts of the space station to measure radiation exposure.
‘Astronauts on the ISS are exposed to radiation levels that are approximately 250 times higher than that experienced by people on Earth,’ said Berger.
‘Radiation exposure during exploration missions further from Earth’s magnetic field or in interplanetary space could be much higher – in fact, our estimates predict up to 700 times higher.’
A space manikin called Matroshka, developed by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, was deployed on the ISS between 2004 and 2011. Pictured, Matroshka in and out of his white traveling poncho, and encapsulated
NASA’s Artemis programme will land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2025, specifically at the lunar south pole region.
It is also hoped that establishing a sustainable lunar presence will ultimately be used as a ‘stepping stone’ for the first human mission to Mars.
NASA’s original date for sending humans back to the moon was 2024, but last year it delayed the date, largely blamed on litigation from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ firm Blue Origin.
The original Apollo programme saw men walk on the moon for the last time in 1972, as part of the Apollo 17 mission.
NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon in 2025 as part of the Artemis mission
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.
NASA has chosen her to personify its path back to the moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2025 – including the first woman and the next man.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars.
Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the moon and beyond.
During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars. This graphic explains the various stages of the mission
Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars.
The will take crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with humans aboard.
Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging crew and cargo mission needs in deep space.
Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.
The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.