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Artemis I Mission: NASA’s Orion Capsule Comes Home, Completes Moon Flight

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NASA’s Orion capsule blazed through Earth’s atmosphere and plunged down into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday after making an uncrewed journey around the moon, 50 years to the day after the last moon landing by Apollo while the U.S. agency wraps up the first mission of its new Artemis lunar program.

The gumdrop-shaped Orion capsule, going with a false crew of three mannequins wired with sensors, plunged down into the ocean at 9:40 a.m. PST (9:40 pm Sunday, MUT) off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, showing a profitable homecoming before taking off with it the first crew of astronauts around the moon in the next years.

NASA commentator Rob Navias said, “From Tranquility Base to Taurus-Littrow to the tranquil waters of the Pacific, the latest chapter of Nasa’s journey to the moon comes to a close. Orion, back on Earth.” The statement was made regarding the live stream of the spacecraft’s journey back to Earth, referring to the lunar sites the capsule flew over during its mission.

As the capsule dashed into the waters, a US military helicopter and a group of fast boats made their way around it to inspect it for nearly two hours. The USS Portland, a US Naval vessel, was standing around 5 miles (8 km) away from the capsule to welcome Orion aboard and carry it to San Diego, California.

The splashdown came about two weeks after the spacecraft had traveled almost 270,000 miles (434,500 km) from Earth, and less than a week after it had made a fly-by of the moon at a distance of roughly 79 miles (127 km).

The Orion capsule lessened its speed from 39, 428 km per hour to 523 kmph due to atmospheric friction, and later the two sets of parachutes further slowed its speed to an expected 32kmph at splashdown. Navias termed the capsule’s descent rate as “perfect”. 

The debut SLS-Orion voyage initiated Apollo’s successor program, Artemis I mission, designed to bring astronauts to the lunar surface this decade and implement a sustainable base there as the first step to future human exploration of Mars.

Mission engineers are tasked with examining data from the Artemis I mission, which might take several months. Artemis II, which will carry a crew, could fly around the moon and return as early as 2024, and a few years later the program’s first landing of astronauts on the moon, with a woman crew as well, with Artemis III be seen. 

Even when Orion faced with a few unexpected communication blackouts and an electrical issue while on its mission, NASA has praised the performance of both SLS and Orion so far, bragging even, that they exceeded the US space agency’s expectations.

The most crucial part of Orion’s mission, re-entry tested the new heat shield’s ability to endure atmospheric friction and safely shield the astronauts who would be on board.

NASA officials have highlighted the experimental nature of the Artemis I mission, signifying the first launch of the Boeing Co-built SLS and the first paired with Orion, which earlier flew a short two-orbit test launched on a smaller Delta IV rocket in 2014.

Much more equipped with science, Artemis is in stark contrast with Apollo, which was born out of the Cold War-era space race between the US and the Soviet Union. Various space agencies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Canada, Japan, and Europe have signed up with Artemis. 

The Artemis Mission I also signifies a big turning point for NASA, refocusing its human spaceflight program after years of focusing on the ISS and the space shuttle. 

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