When Apollo 13’s service module oxygen tank ruptured on April 13, 1970, it threw three astronauts into an extremely perilous situation as they floated some 200,000 miles from Earth. NASA abandoned the idea of landing the mission on the moon, instead focusing entirely on bringing the crew home safely. And they knew exactly who to call: a man named Arturo Campos.
Campos, the electrical power subsystem manager for Apollo 13, rushed out of his bed and into the Mission Evaluation Room at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston (now called the Johnson Space Center).
He immediately got to work modifying the contingency plan he’d created in case this kind of scenario unfolded. After about 15 hours of strategizing, Campos and his team figured out how to divert enough power from the lunar module to the spacecraft’s emergency batteries. In the end, they got the three men back to Earth safely.
For their work, President Richard Nixon awarded Campos and other mission staffers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970. And as NASA prepares to make its historic return to the moon with the now-postponed Artemis 1 mission, the space agency is honoring the late Campos in yet another way: by naming a mannequin after him.
And it’s not just any mannequin, either. This humanoid figure, officially called “Commander Moonikin Campos,” will provide NASA with valuable information about the conditions that human astronauts may experience when they orbit the moon on Artemis 2, a mission currently slated for 2024. Overall, the Artemis program aims to establish a long-term presence on and around the moon, meant to one day support sending astronauts to Mars.
Accompanying Commander Moonikin Campos will be “Zohar” and “Helga,” two limbless “phantom” models designed to mimic female torsos. Data from all three mannequins will help NASA prepare to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon.
“We will learn a great deal from the Artemis 1 test flight,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis’s mission manager, at a press conference last weekend, as reported by NPR’s Wynne Davis. “And through this experience, we will change and modify anything necessary to prepare ourselves for a crewed flight on the very next mission."
Commander Moonikin Campos got his name from a public contest the space agency held last year. Participants cast more than 300,000 votes in the bracket-style competition, which pitted space-related objects, figures and programs against each other for the honor.
Other names up for consideration included “Montgomery,” for Julius Montgomery, the first Black American to work as a technical professional at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and “Duhart,” for Irene Duhart Long, a Black woman who served as chief medical officer of Kennedy Space Center—the first woman and the first person of color to hold that position.
But “Campos” ultimately won out, as voters opted to honor the Mexican-American electrical engineer from Laredo, Texas. Born in 1934, Campos grew up thinking he’d train to become an auto mechanic like his father, according to NASA. But with the encouragement of a high school teacher, he decided to begin taking classes at Laredo Junior College. Campos kept going, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in 1956.
Campos was working at Kelly Air Force Base as an aircraft maintenance supervisor when he heard about NASA’s plans to send humans into space, per the agency. He joined NASA in the early 1960s and worked on dozens of projects over the next two decades, including Apollo 11, which put the first humans on the moon.
At the time, as NASA notes, there weren’t many Hispanic employees at Johnson Space Center. Campos not only led by example, serving as representation for aspiring Latinx engineering and technical professionals, but he also worked on efforts to bring more Hispanic individuals into the space program. Campos established the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 660, a group of NASA Mexican-American engineers who gave college scholarships to Hispanic students.
Today, his three daughters continue to celebrate his important contributions to the field.
“It just seems like he’s gone full circle in helping Apollo 13, and 50 years later—thank God—he’s going to help them again. At least, his name is, anyway,” Yvette Campos Brewer, one of his daughters, tells KGNS’s Alex Cano.
Campos died in 2001, but his legacy—as one of Apollo 13’s saviors and as a proponent of diversity in science, technology, engineering and math—lives on. Educators at his Laredo alma mater, Martin High School, said they hoped Campos’s many achievements would serve as a source of inspiration for current students.
“For them to see that anything is possible and for them to make those connections, it energizes them to be a bit more coherent on what they want to accomplish in their own lives,” says Mario Mireles, the school’s principal, to the Laredo Morning Times’ Karol Garcia.