NASA is hoping to launch its Artemis moon rocket again on Friday at the earliest, after last-minute challenges – including engine trouble – grounded the rocket at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Monday.
The Artemis project aims to put astronauts back on the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended 50 years ago. This first mission, which is slated to last six weeks from takeoff, is a collaboration of NASA, the Israel Space Agency and German space agencies (DLR), with the assistance of Lockheed Martin.
Israel has provided Artemis with key technology in the form of its AstroRad protective vest, developed by the Israeli company StemRad, which is part of an experiment called “MARE” (Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment). MARE will compare the radiation indices absorbed by an Israeli mannequin named Zohar who is wearing an AstroRad vest aboard the craft and a German mannequin, Helga, who will adorn only sensors.
The mannequins are designed to mimic the human body, including bones, tissues and organs. These are fashioned after females, because part of NASA’s goal for the Artemis program is to send a woman astronaut to the moon.
If the vest is able to cope with the radiation in deep space, there is a high chance that NASA astronauts will use the suits for future Artemis missions planned over the next decade, including sending astronauts on a mission in 2024 to fly around the moon and a lunar landing mission that could happen as early as the end of 2025.
The vests were already tested by the International Space Station in a microgravity, low-Earth orbit environment and proved effective. The Artemis mission will be the farthest they have ever been out in space.
Until now, all manned exploration missions, apart from the Apollo flights to the moon, have been limited to up to 1,200 miles away, where the Earth’s magnetic field protects astronauts from most radiation threats, including deadly solar storms and galactic cosmic rays. The threat of radiation exposure increases significantly in deep space, and has been one of NASA’s biggest challenges in launching manned missions to Mars.
The last person to walk on the moon was Apollo-17 astronaut Gene Cernan in 1972.
Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said Israel’s role in Artemis should bring the people immense pride.
“This is a very ambitious initiative, to return man to the moon and Mars,” she said in a statement. “This thing is another platform that the Israeli government is creating for Israeli high-tech to strengthen the economy, the industry and the technological developments at a time when the space industry is going through a civilian and commercial explosion."
Hilla Haddad Chmelnik, director-general of the ministry, said that this experiment could “pave the way for more Israeli space companies."
The Artemis program’s ultimate aim is not only to land humans on the moon but to establish a human colony there, including turning the moon into a transit station for manned missions to deep space in general and Mars in particular.
In addition to the Israeli vest, a mezuzah – a small box carrying the words of the Shema Yisrael, the prayer that usually hangs on a door – a Dead Sea stone and tree seeds are also supposed to be launched on the first Artemis craft.
In preparation for the delayed trip, Israel’s Ministry of Interior issued Zohar an official passport.
Maayan Hoffman is a veteran American-Israeli journalist and strategic communications consultant. She is Deputy CEO - Strategy & Innovation for the Jerusalem Post, where she also served as news editor, head of strategy and senior health analyst.