NASA's Orion capsule returns to Earth following a record voyage around the Moon

NASA's Orion capsule returns to Earth following a record voyage around the Moon

Orion logged over a million miles and went farther from Earth than any previous habitable spacecraft.

The Orion space capsule splashed down safely into the Pacific ocean on Sunday following a successful unmanned voyage around the Moon. This marked the completion of the Artemis 1 mission, a journey that lasted over 25 days with the aim to send and bring back humans to and from the moon in just a few years.

The capsule raced through the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) per hour. It could then be seen floating in the ocean with the help of three large orange and white parachutes off Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

"I don't think any one of us could have imagined the mission this successful," said Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin in a press conference.

"We now have a foundational deep space transportation system."

The gumdrop-shaped Orion capsule carried a simulated crew of three mannequins wired with sensors.

A US military helicopter and a group of fast boats reached the capsule for an inspection expected to last about five hours before it is hoisted aboard a US Naval vessel for a trip to San Diego, California.

Orion logged over a million miles and went farther from Earth than any previous habitable spacecraft.

"For years, thousands of individuals have poured themselves into this mission, which is inspiring the world to work together to reach untouched cosmic shores," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

NASA's Orion capsule returns to Earth following a record voyage around the Moon
NASA’s Orion spacecraft has entered lunar orbit, to return on December 11

"Today is a huge win for NASA, the United States, our international partners, and all of humanity," he added.

During the mission, the capsule flew less than 80 miles from the surface of the moon in a lunar fly-by. It also reached its farthest point in space, nearly 270,000 miles (434,500 km) from Earth.

NASA's Orion capsule returns to Earth following a record voyage around the Moon
NASA Orion capsule makes closest approach to Moon

The capsule has to withstand a temperature of 2,800 degrees Centigrade (5,000 Fahrenheit), about half that of the surface of the Sun, while entering the Earth's atmosphere. The main goal of this mission was to test Orion's heat shield, in preparation for the day when it carries astronauts.

The capsule had blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on November 16. It sat atop NASA's towering next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) which is now the world's most powerful rocket and the biggest NASA has built since the Saturn V of the Apollo era.

The debut SLS-Orion voyage kicked off Apollo's successor program, Artemis, stepping stone to future human exploration of Mars.

Mission engineers will now examine data from the Artemis I mission.

A crewed Artemis II flight around the moon and back could come as early as 2024, followed within a few more years by the program's first lunar landing of astronauts, one of them a woman, with Artemis III.

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