NASA’s Artemis mission to the moon ends with a splash

NASA’s Artemis mission to the moon ends with a splash

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The Artemis I mission, a 25-and-a-half-day uncrewed test flight around the Moon intended to pave the way for future astronaut missions, came to a momentous end when NASA’s Orion spacecraft a successful ocean splash on Sunday.

The spacecraft completed the final leg of its journey, closing in on the thick inner layer of Earth’s atmosphere after traveling 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) between the Moon and Earth. It made landfall at 12:40 pm ET Sunday in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California, Mexico.

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

But after splashing down, Rob Navias, the NASA commentator who hosted Sunday’s broadcast, called the reentry process “textbook.”

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

The capsule is now moving into the Pacific Ocean, where it will remain until nearly 3 pm ET while NASA collects additional data and conducts some tests. This process, like the rest of the mission, aims to ensure that the Orion spacecraft is ready to fly astronauts.

“We’re testing all the heat that’s come in and been generated in the capsule. We want to make sure we characterize how that’s going to affect the interior of the capsule,” NASA flight director Judd Frieling told reporters last week past

A fleet of recovery vehicles, including boats, a helicopter and a US Navy ship called the USS Portland, are waiting nearby.

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 the compression waves caused the exterior of the vehicle to heat up to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Fahrenheit). Celsius).

“The next big test is the heat shield,” Nelson had told CNN in a phone 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 5 1/2 minute communications blackout, seconds to Artemis I Flight Director Judd Frieling.

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

When 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 upward, like skipping a rock on the surface of a lake.

There are a couple of reasons to use the jump maneuver.

“The jump entry gives us a consistent landing site that supports astronaut safety by allowing teams on the ground to better and more quickly coordinate recovery efforts,” said Joe Bomba, aerothermal manager of aerosciences at Lockheed Martin’s Orion, in one statement. Lockheed is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.

“By splitting the heat and force of reentry into two events, jump reentry also offers advantages such as decreasing the ga forces to which astronauts are subjected,” according to Lockheed, referring to the crushing forces experienced by astronauts. humans during spaceflight.

Another communications blackout lasting about three minutes followed the jump maneuver.

As it embarked on its final descent, the capsule slowed dramatically, losing thousands of miles per hour in speed until its parachutes deployed. When it splashed, Orion was traveling about 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour).

Although there were no astronauts on this test mission, only one few dummies equipped to collect data and a Snoopy doll – Nelson, the head of NASA, has stressed the importance to demonstrate that the capsule can make a safe return.

The space agency’s plans are to turn the Artemis moon missions into a program that will send astronauts to Mars, a journey that will have a much faster and bolder re-entry process.

The Orion capsule captures a view of the lunar surface, with Earth in the background crescent-lit by the sun.

Orion traveled approximately 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) during this mission on a path that swung into distant lunar orbit, carrying the capsule. farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has he ever traveled

A secondary goal of this mission was for the Orion Service Module, a cylindrical attachment on the bottom 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 developed in Japan and one of NASA’s own payload which was to be one of the first small satellites to explore interplanetary space.

On its journey, the spacecraft captured stunning images of Earth and, during two close flybys, images of the lunar surface and a fascinating “Rise of the earth.”

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

“It’s not an A-plus, simply 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 am one school teacher, I’d give it an A-plus.”

With the success of the Artemis I mission, NASA will now investigate the data collected on that flight and look to choose a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could lift off in 2024.

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 launch in 2025is expected to put boots on the moon again, and NASA officials have said it will include the first woman and first person of color to reach that milestone.

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