UNITED STATES: NASA’s Orion spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, at 9:40 a.m. PST Sunday after a record-breaking mission, traveling more than 1.4 million miles on a path around the Moon and returning safely to Earth, completing the Artemis I flight test.
The gumdrop-shaped spacecraft will have to endure a temperature of 2,800 degrees Celsius (5,000 degrees Fahrenheit) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometres) per hour. This temperature is almost half that of the sun’s surface.
At 1739 GMT (11:09 p.m.), there will be a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the Mexican island of Guadalupe.
For NASA, which has expended tonnes of capital on the Artemis programme intended to return people to the Moon and set up a future voyage to Mars, achieving success in this mission of just over 25 days is crucial.
This unmanned spacecraft’s initial test has gone pretty well thus far.
The Real Orion Test
The greatest heat shield ever created, Orion’s, is only put to the test in the dying moments of this journey to determine if it really holds up.
“It is a piece of machinery that must be safe. It is intended to safeguard both the astronauts and passengers within the spacecraft. Therefore, the heat barrier must function,” explained Mike Sarafin, manager of the Artemis mission.
In an exercise that NASA has been practising for years, the USS Portland of the US Navy has been placed in the Pacific to collect the Orion spacecraft. For this task, helicopters and inflatable boats will also be used.
The Earth’s atmosphere and a network of 11 parachutes will both slow the falling spacecraft first, and when it reaches the Pacific, it will slow to a speed of 20 miles (30 kilometres) per hour.
After it arrives, NASA will allow Orion to float for two hours—much longer than if astronauts were inside—to gather data.
Orion will then have cables attached to it so that it can be hoisted into the USS Portland, an amphibious transport dock vessel with a partially submerged rear.
For the spaceship to rest on a platform made to support it, this water will be progressively drained out.
From the time the vessel first splashes down, this should all take between four and six hours.
The spacecraft will subsequently be discharged a few days later in San Diego, California, by the Navy ship.
From this mission, NASA will be able to collect information from the spacecraft that is essential for upcoming missions.
This includes data on the state of the craft following the flight, information from sensors that record acceleration and vibration, and information on how well a special radiation-protection gear worn by a mannequin inside the capsule worked.
The crew of the following mission, scheduled for 2024, will travel toward the Moon but not make an actual landing there. The astronauts chosen for this mission are anticipated to be announced by NASA soon.
For the first time, a spacecraft will touch down on the south pole of the moon during Artemis 3, which is scheduled for 2025 and has water in the form of ice there.
NASA wants to build a facility on the moon’s surface and an orbiting space station in order to establish a permanent human presence there.
Engineers should be able to create technologies for a lengthy trip to Mars, maybe in the late 2030s if people learn to live on the Moon.