NASA’s Orion spacecraft leaps to the ground after its trip to the moon

NASA’s Orion spacecraft splashed into the Pacific Ocean, marking the end of the Artemis I mission around the Moon. The spacecraft entered the ocean off the coast of California at 12:40 p.m. ET (9:40 a.m. PT) on Sunday, December 11.

The Orion spacecraft and its launch rocket, the Space Launch System, have completed this first uncrewed test flight ahead of future crewed missions that will take astronauts around the moon aboard Artemis II and to the lunar surface aboard Artemis III. The flight took 25 days and saw Orion travel more than 1.4 million miles into a distant orbit around the moon, performing two close flights on its way out and on the return trip.

On December 11, 2022, at 12:40 pm EST, the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis I mission landed in the Pacific Ocean after a 25.5-day Moon mission. Orion will be rescued aboard the USS Portland by NASA’s Landing and Rescue team, US Navy and Department of Defense partners. NASA/Kim Shiflett

“The Orion spacecraft’s splashdown, which took place 50 years before Apollo 17 landed on the Moon, is Artemis I’s crowning achievement. From the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket to its extraordinary journey around the Moon and back to Earth, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “This would not have been possible without the incredible NASA team. Over the years, thousands of people have dedicated themselves to this mission that has inspired the world to work together to reach the pristine cosmic shores. Today, NASA is the United States of America.” It’s a huge win for their states, our international partners, and all of humanity.”

To make a splash as it approached planet Earth, Orion separated the crew module, where the astronauts would stay, from the service module, which housed the main propulsion system. As it entered the atmosphere, the spacecraft’s heat shield was exposed to temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit and used its parachutes to slow it from nearly 25,000 mph to just 20 mph when it hit the water.

Now, rescuers are recruiting to return Orion to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to check its condition and collect data from the many sensors inside. So far, the spacecraft appears to have lifted the deliberately strong stresses of this test flight.

“Orion has returned from the Moon and has returned safely to planet Earth,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager. “With Leap, we successfully operated Orion in a deep space environment, exceeding our expectations, and demonstrated that Orion can withstand the extreme conditions of returning from lunar speeds through the Earth’s atmosphere.”

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