Artemis 1 lunar mission splashes down after record-breaking flight
NASA's Artemis 1 lunar mission ended today in a splashdown of the uncrewed Orion capsule in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California at 9:40 am PST, after which it was recovered by the amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland.
Lifting off from Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 16 atop NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Artemis 1's Orion capsule has spent 25.5 days on a flight that sent it farther into deep space for a longer time than any other human-rated spacecraft. During two powered flybys of the Moon, it came within less than 80 miles (130 km) of the lunar surface and went into a slingshot trajectory that catapulted the spacecraft almost 270,000 miles (434,500 km) from the Earth.
The purpose of the mission was to test the components of the Orion spacecraft under deep space conditions to see how well they fared under the harsh environment, as well as during the ultrasonic reentry when the heat shield was subjected to temperatures of about 5,000 °F (2,760 °C).
According to NASA, the splashdown area had to be changed at the last minute due to bad weather. However, the Orion capsule, for the first time for a human-rated craft, made a skip-reentry maneuver, where it slowed down from its tremendous speed by skipping off the Earth's atmosphere like a flat stone on a pond. This not only reduced the stress on the craft, it also allowed NASA to steer the capsule to the new recovery zone.
With the aid of NASA and the US Air Force, the Portland's divers were able to shift the capsule into the Portland's recovery dock, where it was scooped up and secured. The Orion will now be placed on a truck and sent back to Kennedy, where NASA and contractor engineers will evaluate the effects of the flight on the capsule and the three mannequins that stood in for live astronauts.
"The splashdown of the Orion spacecraft – which occurred 50 years to the day of the Apollo 17 Moon landing – is the crowning achievement of Artemis I," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "From the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket to the exceptional journey around the Moon and back to Earth, this flight test is a major step forward in the Artemis Generation of lunar exploration. It wouldn’t be possible without the incredible NASA team. For years, thousands of individuals have poured themselves into this mission, which is inspiring the world to work together to reach untouched cosmic shores. Today is a huge win for NASA, the United States, our international partners, and all of humanity."
The video below discusses the Artemis 1 spashdown.