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As NASA’s Orion spacecraft successfully splashed down in the ocean on Sunday, the Artemis I mission — a 25½-day uncommissioned test flight around the moon that will pave the way for future space missions — came to an important conclusion.
The spacecraft completed the final leg of its journey, passing 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) between the Moon and Earth, covering the dense inner layer of Earth’s atmosphere. It fell into the Pacific Ocean in Baja California, Mexico at 12:40pm on Sunday.
This final step is one of the most important and dangerous legs of the mission.
But after splashing down, NASA commentator Rob Navias, who led Sunday’s broadcast, called the re-entry process “textbook.”
“I’m very shocked,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Sunday. “It’s been an extraordinary day.”
The capsule then spent six hours in the Pacific Ocean, where NASA collected more data and ran through some tests before the recovery team moved it. That process, like the rest of the mission, aims to ensure the Orion spacecraft is ready to fly astronauts.
According to Melissa Jones, recovery director for the mission, the crew is expected to spend minimal time in the water during the mission, perhaps less than two hours.
A team of rescue vehicles including boats, a helicopter and the USS Portland, a US Navy ship, waited nearby.
The NASA Twitter account confirms that the capsule was aboard the USS Portland at 6:40pm ET.
“It’s a challenging mission,” Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis I mission manager, told reporters Sunday afternoon. “This is what mission success is all about.”
The spacecraft was traveling at 32 times the speed of sound (24,850 miles per hour or 40,000 kilometers per hour) when it hit the air – so fast that compression waves heated the exterior of the vehicle to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees). Celsius).
“The next big test is the heat shield,” Nelson told CNN in a phone interview Thursday, referring to the barrier designed to protect the Orion capsule from physics re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
The extreme heat ionized the air molecules, creating a structure The plasma caused a 5½-minute communication blackout. According to Artemis I to Flight Director Judd Fryling.
Interactive: I Trace the path of Artemis around the Moon and back
When the capsule reached an altitude of about 200,000 feet (61,000 meters) above Earth’s surface, it performed a roll maneuver, which briefly sent the capsule upward — similar to avoiding a rock on the surface of a lake.
There are two reasons for using the skip maneuver.
“Skip entry gives us a stable landing pad, which supports astronaut safety because it allows teams on the ground to coordinate rescue efforts better and faster,” said Joe Bomba, Lockheed Martin’s Orion aerosciences aerothermal lead. Report. Lockheed is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.
“By splitting the heat and force of re-entry into two events, skip entry also provides the benefit of reducing the G-forces experienced by astronauts,” Lockheed said, referring to the crushing forces humans experience during spaceflight.
The skip maneuver was followed by another communication blackout lasting three minutes.
As it began its final descent, the capsule decelerated sharply and sped away at thousands of miles per hour until its parachutes deployed. By the time it splashes down, Orion should be traveling 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour). NASA officials, however, did not yet have an exact splashdown speed at the 3:30 pm ET press conference.
NASA’s Orion program manager Howard Hu observed that the temperature in the Orion crew cabin maintained a comfortable temperature of 60 degrees to 71 degrees Fahrenheit based on the data.
Although there were no astronauts on this test mission – one Some mannequins Collect data and A Snoopy toy – Nelson, NASA president, emphasized Importance Demonstrates that the capsule can be returned safely.
The space agency’s plans are to turn the Artemis lunar missions into a program to send astronauts to Mars, which would involve a much faster and bolder re-entry process.
During this mission, Orion traveled about 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) into lunar orbit carrying the capsule. Farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans He has traveled sometime.
The mission’s secondary target was the Orion Service Module, a cylindrical attachment at the base of the spacecraft to deploy 10 small satellites. But at least four of those satellites failed after being launched into orbit, including a miniature lunar lander that was developed. Japan And one NASA’s own payload It was supposed to be one of the first small satellites to explore interplanetary space.
On its journey, the spacecraft was captured Shocking pictures of Earth and, when the two fly close, images of the lunar surface and a mesmerizing “Earth upheaval.”
Nelson said if he had to give a letter grade for the Artemis I mission so far, it would be an A.
“Not A-plus because we expect things to go wrong. And the good news is that when they do go wrong, NASA knows how to fix them,” Nelson said. But “if I’m a School teacher, I give it an A-plus.
With the success of the Artemis I mission, NASA will now delve into the data collected on this flight and select a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could take off in 2024. A team announcement is expected in early 2023, NASA officials said Sunday afternoon.
Artemis II aims to send astronauts on the same trajectory as Artemis I, flying around the moon but not landing on its surface.
Artemis III Mission, Currently Scheduled for 2025 releaseexpected NASA officials have said this would include the first woman and the first person of color to set foot on the moon again.