Just over halfway through its 26-day mission, the Orion capsule has reached its greatest distance away from Earth. Previously, the Apollo 13 mission had held the all-time record: 248,000 miles. But at its farthest, Orion was 270,000 miles away from the planet’s surface. And while it was out there, it snapped this selfie of itself and the Earth:
In the full image, you can see the Orion capsule, with the Earth and Moon in the background. At this moment, the capsule was 268,547 miles from Earth and 43,318 miles from the Moon, traveling at 1,679 miles per hour. Telemetry remains nominal as of early Wednesday morning.
While Artemis 1 has no human crew members, the flight does still have passengers. Orion is carrying special mannequins, or ‘moonikins,’ whose prime directive is to test out next-generation space gear. NASA administrator Bill Nelson explained, during a Monday evening briefing from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston:
“Many of us know: Arturo Campos was a NASA engineer who developed a plan to bring the crippled Apollo 13 crew home safely. For a mission where something terrible went wrong, it’s in the annals at NASA as one of our most successful missions — because they saved the crew. Well, on Orion now is Commander Moonikin Campos, his namesake. […] He’s outfitted with sensors to provide data on what crew members will experience in flight. And that data will continue Campos’ legacy of enabling human exploration in deep space.”
Beside Cmdr. Campos ride two other ‘moonikins,’ Helga and Zohar. All three are positively bristling with sensors that will tell NASA about the radiation environment and kinetic forces that lunar astronauts will experience. Cmdr. Campos is also wearing a radiation protection vest that the agency is testing for later Artemis flights. In addition, Helga and Zohar are both built to test out protective gear in more inclusive sizes.
To Boldly Go
NASA has a gender problem. The agency infamously asked its first female astronaut, Sally Ride, whether a hundred tampons would be enough for the two-week flight. Decades later, Ride was still laughing into her coffee about NASA’s desperately oblivious ideas on what female astronauts might need. Despite being literal, actual rocket scientists, Ride told the agency’s History Office in a 2002 interview, these men thought space makeup was an essential part of a female astronaut’s EDC. Never mind a zero-G toilet that can accommodate female anatomy. Gimme that space blush.
Sally Ride: “The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup – so they designed a makeup kit… You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit.” #RideOn #Classof78 pic.twitter.com/dNZ51cWELH
— NASA History Office (@NASAhistory) January 16, 2018
Surprising few, the kit was never used. Meanwhile, NASA finally fielded an anatomically inclusive toilet on the International Space Station — in 2020.
Space blush, oy. The powdery particulate alone should have killed this idea before it ever made it off a napkin. Besides, someone’s double standards are showing — I don’t see space guyliner.
But the joke falls flat when the spaceship safety harnesses and space suits don’t fit astronauts right, because they’re sized for just one type of male body. NASA had to shuffle the roster for a 2019 spacewalk outside the ISS, because it simply didn’t have enough mix-and-match space suit parts to garb both Anne McClain and Christina Koch, the two females who would have done the excursion, at the same time. Instead, a male astronaut took McClain’s place on the spacewalk. Female bodies are statistically shorter and slenderer than males. As a result, females sustain a disproportionate number of injuries in accidents and collisions. But the female-bodied ‘moonikins’ aboard Orion are the vanguard of a change.
What Happens Next
Orion just passed the halfway mark in its mission to the moon and back. It will remain in a distant retrograde lunar orbit (DRO) until a few days into December when it makes its first course correction burn to head back Earthside. In this mission itinerary, we’re between steps eleven and twelve:
During a briefing on flight day 13 (Monday), Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin said that two-thirds of Orion’s docket is complete or in progress. Many of the spacecraft’s remaining “real-time objectives” take place during the descent phase. “We’re continuing to proceed along the nominal mission,” said Sarafin, “and we’ve passed the halfway point in terms of distance from earth, time in the mission plan, and in terms of mission objectives.”
But the mission is going well. Artemis 1 lead flight director Rick Labrode said that the team opted out of the most recent of Orion’s nineteen scheduled burns. Sarafin also reported that the mission has actually “close[d] one of our anomaly resolution teams associated with the star trackers and the random access memory built-in test hardware that we’re seeing a number of funnies on.”
“The next greatest test for Orion (after the launch),” said Nelson, “is the landing.” Orion will hit our atmosphere at around 25,000 mph. For reference, that’s about Mach 32. The capsule will dip into the atmosphere to slow itself to a mere 17,000 mph, or Mach 22, added Nelson. Artemis 1 will end when Orion splashes down in the Pacific on December 11.
The inaugural Artemis flight had only its ‘moonikins’ aboard. However, future missions will carry human crew members. Artemis 2 will fly four human crew members to lunar orbit. “They are going to the Moon, to lunar orbit, in preparation for Artemis 3,” Nelson said. Rather than confining itself to lunar orbit, Artemis 3 will actually land humans on the lunar surface. For Artemis 3, Nelson said, “We will have four [astronauts] go into a lunar polar elliptical orbit, and we’ll then have two astronauts in the Lander go down to the surface. That will be the first woman, and the next man.”