NASA’s Artemis lunar mission ends with a splashdown

NASA's Artemis lunar mission ends with a splashdown
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The Artemis I mission, a 25 1/2-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 made a successful splashdown on the ocean on sunday.

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

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

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

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

The capsule is now bobbing in the Pacific Ocean, where it will remain until Sunday night while NASA collects additional data and runs some tests. That process, like the rest of the mission, is aimed at ensuring that the Orion spacecraft is ready to carry astronauts.

The capsule is expected to spend less time in the water during the crewed mission, perhaps less than two hours, according to Melissa Jones, the mission’s recovery manager.

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

“This was a challenging mission,” NASA Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin told reporters Sunday night. “And this is what mission success looks like.”

The spacecraft was traveling at 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 (2760 degrees). Celsius).

“The next big test is the heat shield,” Nelson had told CNN in a phone interview on 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 plasma that caused a five and a half minute communications blackout, according to to Artemis I flight director Judd Frieling.

INTERACTIVE: Trace the path Artemis will take around 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, much like skipping a rock across the surface of a lake.

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

“Skipping the gate gives us a consistent landing site that supports astronaut safety by allowing teams on the ground to better and faster coordinate recovery efforts,” said Joe Bomba, Lockheed Martin Orion aerosciences aerothermal leader, in a statement. a statement. Lockheed is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.

“By splitting the heat and force of re-entry into two events, jump-in also offers benefits such as decreasing the G-forces that astronauts are subjected to,” according to Lockheed, referring to the crushing forces humans experience during space flights.

Another communications blackout that lasted 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. At the time she splashed, Orion was supposed to be traveling at about 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour). NASA officials, however, did not yet have an exact splashdown speed at a 3:30 p.m. ET news conference.

The temperature in the Orion crew cabin maintained a comfortable 60 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit according to the data, noted Howard Hu, NASA’s Orion Program Manager.

Although there were no astronauts on this test mission, only one some mannequins equipped to collect data and a snoopy doll — Nelson, the head of NASA, has stressed The importance to prove that the capsule can make a safe comeback.

The space agency’s plans are to turn the Artemis lunar 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 illuminated in a crescent shape by the sun.

Orion traveled approximately 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) during this mission on a looping path toward a distant lunar orbit, carrying the capsule. farther than any spacecraft designed to transport humans have ever traveled

A secondary goal of this mission was for the Orion Service Module, a cylindrical accessory at the bottom of the spacecraft, to deploy 10 small satellites. But at least four of those satellites have failed after being launched into orbit, including a miniature lunar lander developed in Japan and one of NASA’s own payload that it was destined to be one of the first tiny satellites to explore interplanetary space.

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

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

“Not an A-plus, simply because we expect things to go wrong. And the good news is that when they go wrong, NASA knows how to fix them,” Nelson said. but if I am a schoolteacher, I’d give her an A-plus.”

With the success of the Artemis I mission, NASA will now dive into the data collected on this flight and look to choose a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could take off in 2024. Crew announcement is expected in early 2023, NASA officials. he said on Sunday afternoon.

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 a 2025 releaseexpected to put the boots back on the moon, and NASA officials have said it will include the first woman and first person of color to achieve such a milestone.

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