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Meet the 'moonikin' riding in the commander's chair for NASA's mission to the moon

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

NASA has again postponed the launch of its Artemis I moon rocket, originally scheduled for today, because teams noticed a hydrogen leak during refueling. The agency is already set with who'll be riding inside - three mannequins that will collect data like radiation exposure. Marian Navarro from Texas Public Radio has this account of how the mannequin that'll be in the commander's seat got his name.

MARIAN NAVARRO, BYLINE: The story begins in Laredo, Texas, 52 years ago. That's when Deanna Campos Rank and Yvette Campos Brewer remember their dad getting a call in the middle of the night.

YVETTE CAMPOS BREWER: We ran down, and we asked Mom what was going on. I think my dad was getting ready, and she said NASA called. Something was going on, and they needed my dad.

NAVARRO: Their dad was Arturo Campos, who was a NASA engineer. Apollo 13 was scheduled to land on the moon, but an oxygen tank had burst, and the three astronauts on board were now fighting to save their spacecraft.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ASTRONAUT: OK, Houston, we've had a problem here.

NAVARRO: NASA needed Campos at the Johnson Space Center on the double to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ASTRONAUT: We lost the O2 tank to pressure.

NAVARRO: Campos had already come up with a contingency plan for this exact scenario. So he and a team of engineers got busy helping the astronauts make the repair. It worked, and the Apollo 13 safely returned to Earth. The astronauts got a hero's welcome and a ticker-tape parade in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, CHEERING)

NAVARRO: Yvette Campos says the world was elated that the astronauts were back safe.

CAMPOS BREWER: But I don't think anybody really stopped to think, you know, who played what role or how they made it back. They were just home.

NAVARRO: Campos' family and friends were proud of him, but there weren't any big celebrations for him. He quietly went back to work at NASA for 10 more years until he retired. Campos' daughters never expected another communication from the space agency would change their lives again. But it did, when they got an email last year to tell them their dad would be entered into a NASA space contest to name the Artemis 1 Moonikin. Deanna remembers the day they found out their father had won.

DEANNA CAMPOS RANK: We jumped for joy. We actually went to the cemetery to him and Mom's plot, and we took some champagne, and we celebrated.

NAVARRO: Commander Moonikin Campos will collect data for future missions that will eventually take real people to the moon. Yvette says it all feels surreal.

CAMPOS BREWER: And it's just awesome that, you know, even after his death, you know, his name will be attached to helping NASA flights. That's just crazy - crazy good, you know?

NAVARRO: Campos' hometown of Laredo issued a proclamation that will forever recognize Artemis 1's launch day as Commander Moonikin Campos Day.

For NPR News, I'm Marian Navarro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marian Navarro
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