NASA’s newest Orion spacecraft has returned to Earth after a 26-day mission that included a landmark trip around the moon.
At 12:40 p.m. EDT on Sunday, the unmanned spacecraft made a “picture-perfect splashdown” in the Pacific Ocean outside San Diego. The return of the spacecraft signaled the conclusion of NASA’s Artemis I test flight, which served as the agency’s key initial launch and expedition of its new megarocket and space capsule for trips to the moon.
Sunday was a “defining day,” according to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, that “marks new technologies, a whole new breed of astronaut,” and “a vision for the future.”
Nelson declared, “Today is an incredible day. It’s significant because a new generation will be traveling into deep space for the first time.
The last humans to set foot on the moon were astronauts on NASA’s Apollo 17 mission, which took place exactly 50 years ago today.
The Artemis generation is leading us into this new period, according to Nelson.
The Orion spacecraft returned breathtaking images and videos of the lunar surface throughout its weeks-long journey, as well as dramatic “selfies” of the ship and the moon with Earth in the backdrop.
The Apollo 14 and Apollo 12 astronauts’ respective landing sites were among the Apollo landing sites that the spacecraft passed over as it circled around the moon.
The Artemis I test mission was hailed by NASA as laying the groundwork for sending American astronauts back to the moon. It’s also a crucial first step towards the investigation of Mars in space.
The Orion spacecraft and the massive Space Launch System rocket that propels it into orbit were tested with Artemis I. The Apollo program’s illustrious Saturn V rockets, which NASA used to launch people to the moon more than 50 years ago, are more powerful than the 322-foot-tall launcher.
The Artemis I voyage had no humans on board, but subsequent test missions — like the Artemis II expedition, which is slated to take place somewhere around 2024 — will feature astronaut passengers.
This time, a group of dolls with various sensors attached travelled in the Orion capsule to collect information on radiation exposure and other aspects of deep space flight.
The Artemis I mission gave NASA a critical chance to test Orion’s heat shield, which is intended to screen the spacecraft and its occupants from sweltering temperatures as it re-enters the atmosphere of Earth.
According to agency experts, Orion passed through the atmosphere at a blazing 25,000 mph, subjecting the heat shield to temperatures as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Artemis I mission accomplished the first launch of the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft, as well as another significant milestone for NASA: the capsule’s expansive orbit around the moon enabled it to fly further than any earlier spacecraft built specifically to transport passengers. On Nov. 28, when the Orion ship was approximately 270,000 miles from Earth, a new distance record was achieved. The Apollo 13 mission, which traveled over 250,000 miles from Earth in 1970, previously held the record for the longest crewed trip.
On Nov. 16, the Artemis I mission left NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida towards orbit. The about $4.1 billion mission had been postponed several times due to two storms that slammed Florida: Ian in late September and Nicole in early November, as well as a malfunctioning sensor and hydrogen fuel leakage.
Before it sends out regular trips to the moon to set up a lunar base camp, NASA wants to send out two more Artemis test flights. Four astronauts will go to the moon in the Orion spacecraft thanks to Artemis II. According to NASA, the Artemis III mission, which hasn’t yet disclosed launch dates or who will be on board, will bring the first woman and the first person of color to set foot on the lunar surface.