– It can now be revealed that NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is only a day away from returning to Earth, has carried secret messages to the moon.
Also, the hidden notes were in plain view all the time.
“We have Easter eggs in the cockpit view. So when you get that view, happy hunting folks!” said Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, on Dec. 18, the third day of the 25.5-day mission. By “easter eggs”, he used the term usually associated with software or movies to describe a hidden feature.
NASA then remained silent on the subject. In other words, until today (December 10), when the agency revealed the locations and meanings behind the stealth missives.
Spoiler warning: If you want more time to find the “eggs” yourself, pause reading until you’re ready to check out what you’ve found.
“We have five Easter eggs,” confirmed Kelly Humphries, chief information officer at Johnson Space Center in Houston, in an email to collectSPACE. “The black and white bars between the windows, the red cardinal on the right side, the yellow sticker on the right of the hatch with ‘CBAGF’, the black and white bars next to the NASA worm on the mass simulator ( bottom right) and the numbers seen on the forward bulkhead to the right of the docking tunnel.”
The NASA and Lockheed Martin team that designed and built the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission came up with each of the coded notes. The Exploration Ground Systems team, which prepared the ship for launch, was the first to see the Easter eggs as they were installed.
“They have cracked all the riddles and are sworn to secrecy,” Humphries wrote.
Based on social media posts, the first of the “eggs” to be deciphered by the public was the first on Humphries’ list, the black and white bars between Orion’s windows. The bars are in Morse code – a method of encoding letters as signals that was used with the telegraph and with amateur radio.
Read from bottom to top, the “dashes” and “dots” spell “Charlie”. But who is Charlie? Was it a nod to Artemis I Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the first woman to head NASA’s Launch Control Center? Was it a reference to Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke? Or was it Charlie Brown, the owner of Snoopy in Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic? (A snoopy astronaut doll flew aboard the Orion as an Artemis I zero-g indicator.)
“As you can see, ‘CHARLIE’ can mean a lot of things. For the Orion program, it commemorates Charlie Lundquist, deputy director of the Orion program who died in 2020,” Humphries said.
A similar tribute is represented by the bird on the right side of Orion’s cabin. The icon is that of Mark Geyer, former Orion program manager and director of the Johnson Space Center – and fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team – who died in 2021.
The letters C, B, A, G, and F that appear on a yellow sticker to the right of Orion’s hatch are hidden notes of the musical type. Each represents an opening note from the 1954 song “Fly Me to the Moon” written by Bart Howard. A decade later, the same song performed by Frank Sinatra became associated with the Apollo missions to the moon.
“I think a lot of us were humming that song when we saw Orion perform the trans-lunar injection burn“Humphries said, adding that members of NASA’s Artemis I team and its international and industry partners recorded a video of them singing the same song before the mission launched.
The black and white bars visible next to the NASA “worm” logotype are binary for the number 18. The last mission to send astronauts to the Moon was Apollo 17, hence the next number in the sequence. (Coincidentally, the Artemis I mission is due to go down on the same date, 50 years ago, as Apollo 17 landed on the moon.)
The last of the Easter eggs was the best hidden, according to Humphries. The numbers on the forward bulkhead to the right of the docking tunnel – 1, 31, 32, 33, 34, 39, 41, 43, 46, 47 and 49 – are the call signs of the countries that participated in the construction Orion spacecraft: the United States and European Space Agency (ESA) member states, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria , Sweden, Norway and Germany.
Artemis I isn’t the first NASA mission to include Easter eggs for the public to find. When the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory began traversing the Red Planet in 2012, its wheels left behind a trail spelling “JPL” in Morse code, a reference to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the mission is managed. Similarly, JPL engineers designed the Perseverance Mars rover’s descent parachute to display the lab’s motto, “Dare Mighty Things,” and its GPS coordinates in binary code.
The practice even dates back to the first time NASA went to the moon. Although not seen by the public until decades later, the MIT programmers who wrote the flight software for the Apollo 11 spacecraft included many easter eggs in their 1969 source code. , the name of the file that included the machine’s instructions for igniting the engine was labeled “Burn Baby Burn”, while another file apparently asked astronauts “please run the silly thing” before going “to see the wizard “.
Whether or not Easter eggs will become an Artemis program tradition remains to be seen, Humphries said.
“Nothing is planned at the moment, but you never know if we will have good ideas for future crewed flights,” he wrote.