NASA’s moon-bound mannequin astronaut named after hero of troubled Apollo 13 mission

CNN  — 

After a weeks-long challenge to name NASA’s moon-bound mannequin (or “Moonikin” as NASA has dubbed it), the people have chosen: Campos is expected to take off on the uncrewed Artemis I moon mission slated for November.

The name is a dedication to the late Arturo Campos, a Mexican American electrical engineer at NASA who was instrumental in bringing the imperiled Apollo 13 crew safely back home in 1970, according to NASA.

As the Apollo 13 crew was en route to attempt the third moon landing, an oxygen tank exploded (prompting the famous line, “Houston we’ve had a problem,” said by astronaut Jim Lovell ) – cutting that journey short.

Because they had hundreds of thousands more miles to go, mission control teams at the Johnson Space Center had to quickly devise ways to return the astronauts to Earth while conserving power, water and heat, according to a NASA Tumblr post. Their ultimately successful strategy was based on a contingency plan Campos had written in advance, then modified for the emergency.

Campos the mannequin will be equipped with two radiation sensors and a first-generation Orion Crew Survival System spacesuit when it boards NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the upcoming moon mission. One of its jobs will be to provide data on what human crew members might experience during the Artemis II spaceflight in 2023.

Pictured is the mannequin that will fly on NASA's Artemis I mission.

The mannequin has also been tested for emergency situations, including whether astronauts could safely escape their seats if they were stuck upside down in water after splashdown, Jason Hutt, NASA’s lead for Orion Crew Systems integration, said in a statement.

From humble goals…

Born in Laredo, Texas, in 1934, Campos grew up in a time where earning engineering degrees wasn’t common for people from Hispanic backgrounds, according to NASA.

Pictured is Arturo Campos, an electrical power subsystem manager for the Apollo 13 lunar module.

Having no plans for higher education, Campos thought he might become an auto mechanic like his father, according to NASA. That was before his high school chemistry and physics teacher, Josephine “Grandma” Baird, recognized his potential and urged him to take junior college classes and work at his father’s shop – which ultimately led to him graduating from the University of Texas with an electrical engineering degree in 1956.

READ MORE: Meet the space trailblazers of color who empowered others to dream

Campos’ supervised aircraft maintenance at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas before joining NASA in the early 1960s.

… to astronomical achievements

Campos’ contributed his skills to many NASA projects, such as electrical systems for spacecraft like the Apollo lunar modules, including the one used for the first moon landing in 1969, according to NASA.

Campos was asleep when he got the emergency call about Apollo 13 from NASA colleagues on April 13, 1970, NASA reported. As astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise were stuck in the endangered spacecraft roughly 200,000 miles from Earth, the engineers on the ground implemented Campos’ modified contingency plan, which he originally had written with that exact scenario in mind.

The directions for executing the revised procedure were sent to mission control, which relayed it to the astronauts.

“The entire process took about 15 hours,” according to NASA, “and in the end, enough power was diverted from lunar module power sources into the emergency batteries of the command and service module to provide heat to the astronauts, assist them in their journey home, and enable them to land safely on Earth.

“If it hadn’t been for the procedure Campos and his colleagues put together, it is likely the Apollo 13 mission would not be remembered as the ‘successful failure’ that it is today.”

Arturo Campos' adapted contingency plan for emergencies helped safely return the Apollo 13 astronauts to Earth.

Former President Richard Nixon awarded Campos and other mission control staffers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970. After retiring from NASA in 1980 and doing electrical engineering consulting, Campos died in 2004 from a heart attack.