Orion Spacecraft Returns to Earth


NASA's Orion capsule returned from the moon, concluding a test flight. | Image by KHOU

NASA’s Orion spacecraft has returned to Earth, completing the Artemis I mission.

The spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, at 9:40 a.m. PST on Sunday.

Orion endured reentry temperatures of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, half the temperature of the Sun’s surface. It slowed from nearly 25,000 to about 20 miles per hour within 20 minutes before splashing down with the assistance of a parachute.

“Orion has returned from the Moon and is safely back on planet Earth,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager in a press release.  “With splashdown, we have successfully operated Orion in the deep space environment, where it exceeded our expectations, and demonstrated that Orion can withstand the extreme conditions of returning through Earth’s atmosphere from lunar velocities,” he continued.

The Artemis I launched on November 16, beginning its 25-day journey to the moon and back, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Orion was in space longer than any spacecraft designed for astronauts that has not docked to a space station. The craft surpassed the record for distance traveled by a spacecraft designed for astronauts set by Apollo 13, traveling 1.4 million miles.

The spacecraft performed two lunar flybys, coming within 80 miles of the moon’s surface. Orion traveled nearly 270,000 miles from Earth at the farthest point of its mission.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that the splashdown of the crafts is “the crowning achievement of Artemis I.”

“From the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket to the exceptional journey around the Moon and back to Earth, this flight test is a major step forward in the Artemis Generation of lunar exploration,” said Nelson. “Today is a huge win for NASA, the United States, our international partners, and all of humanity,” he continued.

The associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, James Free, tweeted, “While we are celebrating a successful mission, we have much to look forward to when we fly crew on our next Artemis mission.”

NASA plans to launch the Artemis II with a crew and land personnel on the moon with the Artemis III as early as 2025.

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