NASA’s Artemis moon mission ends with splashdown

NASA’s Artemis moon mission ends with splashdown

NASA’s Artemis moon mission ends with splashdown

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The Artemis I mission — a 25½-day uncrewed test flight around the moon intended to pave the way for future astronaut missions — came to a memorable end when NASA’s Orion spacecraft made a successful ocean splash on Sunday.

The spacecraft finished the last leg of its journey, approaching the thick inner layer of Earth’s atmosphere after a 239,000-mile (385,000-kilometer) journey between the moon and Earth. It splashed down into the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja California at 12:40 a.m. ET Sunday.

This last step was one of the most important and dangerous parts of the mission.

But after he crashed, Rob Navias, the NASA commentator who ran Sunday’s broadcast, called the reentry process “textbook.”

“I’m overwhelmed,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Sunday. “This is an extraordinary day.”

The capsule then spent six hours in the Pacific Ocean, with NASA collecting additional data and running through some tests before the rescue team moved it. That process, like the rest of the mission, is designed to ensure that the Orion spacecraft is ready to fly with astronauts.

The capsule is expected to spend less time in the water during a crewed mission, perhaps less than two hours, according to Melissa Jones, the mission’s salvage director.

A flotilla of recovery vehicles — including boats, a helicopter and a U.S. Navy ship called the USS Portland — waited nearby.

A NASA Twitter account confirms that the capsule was on the USS Portland at 6:40 p.m. ET.

“This has been a challenging mission,” NASA’s Artemis I mission manager, Mike Sarafin, told reporters Sunday afternoon. “And this is what mission success looks like.”

The spacecraft was traveling about 32 times the speed of sound (24,850 miles per hour or nearly 40,000 kilometers per hour) when it hit the air — so fast that compression waves caused the exterior of the vehicle to warm to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees ). Celsius).

“The next big test is the heat shield,” Nelson had told CNN in a telephone interview Thursday, referring to the barrier designed to protect the Orion capsule from the excruciating physics of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The extreme heat also caused air molecules to ionize, creating a buildup of plasma that caused a 5½ minute communications outage, according to to Artemis I flight director Judd Frieling.

INTERACTIVE: Trace the path Artemis will take around the moon and back

As the capsule reached about 200,000 feet (61,000 meters) above the Earth’s surface, it performed a roll maneuver that briefly sent the capsule back up — a bit like skipping a rock across the surface of a lake.

There are a number of reasons to use the skip maneuver.

“Skip entry gives us a consistent landing site that supports astronaut safety because it allows teams on the ground to coordinate recovery efforts better and faster,” said Joe Bomba, Lockheed Martin’s Orion aerosciences aerothermal lead, in a statement. pronunciation. Lockheed is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.

“By dividing the heat and force of reentry into two events, skipping entry also offers benefits, such as reducing the g-forces astronauts are subjected to,” said Lockheed, referring to the crushing forces humans experience during spaceflight.

Another communication blackout of approximately three minutes followed the skip maneuver.

As it began its final descent, the capsule slowed dramatically, losing speed thousands of miles per hour until its parachutes deployed. By the time it splashed down, Orion was meant to travel about 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour). However, NASA officials did not yet have an exact landing speed at a 3:30 p.m. ET news conference.

Temperatures in the Orion crew cabin maintained balmy temperatures between 60 degrees and 71 degrees Fahrenheit based on data, Howard Hu, NASA’s Orion program manager, noted.

Although there were no astronauts on this test mission – just one pair of mannequins equipped to collect data and a Snoopy doll – Nelson, the NASA chief, has emphasized the importance to demonstrate that the capsule can safely return.

The space agency’s plans are to merge the Artemis lunar missions into a program that will send astronauts to Mars, a journey that will have a much faster and bolder return process.

NASA’s Artemis moon mission ends with splashdown

Orion traveled about 2 million kilometers on this mission on a path that turned into a distant lunar orbit, carrying the capsule further than any spacecraft designed to carry humans ever travelled.

A secondary goal of this mission was for Orion’s service module, a cylindrical attachment to the underside of the spacecraft, to deploy 10 small satellites. But at least four of those satellites failed after being thrown into orbit, including a miniature lunar lander developed inside Japan and one of NASA’s own payload that was intended to be one of the first small satellites to explore interplanetary space.

During its journey, the spacecraft captured Beautiful pictures of Earth and, during two close flybys, images of the lunar surface and a mesmerizing “Earth rise.”

Nelson said if he had to give the Artemis I mission a letter so far, it would be an A.

“No A-plus, simply because we expect things to go wrong. And the good news is that if they go wrong, NASA knows how to fix them,” Nelson said. But “if I have a teacher, I would give it an ten.”

With the success of the Artemis I mission, NASA will now dive into the data collected on this flight and look at choosing a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could launch in 2024. The crew announcement is expected in early 2023, NASA officials said Sunday afternoon.

Artemis II will aim to send astronauts on a similar trajectory to Artemis I, flying around the moon but not landing on its surface.

The Artemis III mission, currently scheduled for a launch in 2025to be expected to put boots back on the moon, and NASA officials have said it will be the first woman and first person of color to reach such a milestone.

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