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The Artemis I mission — a 25½-day uncrewed test flight around the Moon designed to pave the way for future astronaut missions — came to a remarkable end Sunday when NASA’s Orion spacecraft successfully splashed into the ocean.
After traveling 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) between the Moon and Earth, the spacecraft completed the final leg of its journey, approaching the thick inner layer of Earth’s atmosphere. It splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico at 12:40 a.m. ET on Sunday.
This last step was one of the most important and dangerous legs of the mission.
But NASA commentator Rob Navias, who led Sunday’s broadcast after the jump, called the reentry process “textbook.”
“I’m very surprised,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Sunday. “It’s an unusual day.”
The capsule then spent six hours in the Pacific Ocean collecting additional data and undergoing some tests before a NASA rescue team moved it. This process, like the rest of the mission, aims to ensure that the Orion spacecraft is ready to fly astronauts.
According to Melissa Jones, the mission’s recovery director, the capsule is expected to spend less time in the water during the crew’s mission, perhaps less than two hours.
Rescue vehicles, including boats, a helicopter and the USS Portland, a US Navy ship, were waiting near the park.
NASA’s Twitter account confirmed the capsule was aboard the USS Portland at 6:40 p.m. ET.
“It was a difficult mission,” Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis I mission manager, told reporters Sunday afternoon. “And that’s what mission success looks like.”
The spacecraft was traveling at about 32 times the speed of sound (24,850 miles per hour, or about 40,000 kilometers per hour) when it hit the air—so fast that the compression waves caused the vehicle’s exterior to heat up to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius). 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 the excruciating physics of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Excessive heat also causes air molecules to ionize, which creates condensation plasma causing a 5½-minute communications blackout, according to To Judd Frieling, Artemis I flight director.
INTERACTIVE: Follow Artemis’s path 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 that sent the capsule briefly upward—kind of like skipping a rock on the surface of a lake.
There are several reasons for using a jump maneuver.
“Skip Access gives us a consistent landing area 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 aerothermal head. statement. Lockheed is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.
According to Lockheed, referring to the crushing forces experienced by humans during spaceflight, “By splitting the heat and re-entry force into two events, reentry also offers the benefit of reducing the G-forces experienced by astronauts.”
The jump maneuver was followed by another disconnection lasting about three minutes.
As it began its final descent, the capsule slowed dramatically and traveled at thousands of miles per hour until its parachutes deployed. Orion must have been traveling at 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) when it hit the ground. NASA officials did not yet have an exact jump speed at a press conference at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Howard Hu, manager of NASA’s Orion Program, observed that the temperature in the Orion crew cabin maintained a moderate temperature between 60 degrees and 71 degrees Fahrenheit, based on the data.
While there were no astronauts on this test mission – just one several mannequins equipped to collect information and To the Snoopy doll – NASA chief Nelson emphasized importance to demonstrate that the capsule can be returned safely.
The space agency’s plans are to turn Artemis’ moon missions into a program that would send astronauts to Mars, a journey that would be a faster and more daring re-entry process.
The Orion capsule traveled about 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) during this mission on a path to distant lunar orbit. farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans have you ever traveled
The second objective of this mission was to place 10 small satellites on Orion’s service module, a cylindrical appendage under the spacecraft. But at least four of these satellites failed after launch, including a miniature lunar lander. Japan and one NASA’s own payload It was intended to be one of the first small satellites to explore interplanetary space.
During the journey, the spacecraft was intercepted amazing pictures Images of Earth and the surface of the Moon during two close flybys and the fascinating “The earth rises.”
Nelson said if he had to give the Artemis I mission a letter grade so far, it would be an A.
“Not an A-plus, just because we expect things to go wrong. “The good news is that when they go wrong, NASA knows how to fix them,” Nelson said. But “if I a teacher, I’d give it an A-plus.”
With the success of the Artemis I mission, NASA will now examine the data collected on this flight and try to select a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could lift off in 2024. A crew announcement is expected in early 2023, NASA officials said Sunday afternoon.
Artemis II will aim to send astronauts flying around the Moon on the same trajectory as Artemis I, but not landing on its surface.
Artemis III mission, right now It is planned to be released in 2025is expected Putting the boots back on the moon will include the first woman and the first person of color to reach such a milestone, NASA officials said.
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