NASA has successfully returned the Orion spacecraft to Earth. The uncrewed capsule touched down safely in the Pacific Ocean off the Mexican coast of Baja California around 12:40 p.m. ET Sunday (7:40 p.m. Kyiv), marking the completion of Artemis 1‘s historic mission.
When returning to Earth, the capsule developed a speed of about 39,400 km per hour, while its heat shield withstood a scorching temperature of about 2,760 degrees Celsius. In 25.5 days, Orion covered 2.25 million kilometers in space.
After traveling 1.4 million miles through space, orbiting the Moon, and collecting data that will prepare us to send astronauts on future #Artemis missions, the @NASA_Orion spacecraft is home. pic.twitter.com/ORxCtGa9v7
— NASA (@NASA) December 11, 2022
When entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the Orion capsule successfully performed the skip entry (from Stone skipping maneuver, during which the capsule plunged into the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere and rose from them before re-entering the atmosphere. Like how a flat stone launched at a certain angle into a lake bounces on the water. This maneuver helped the spacecraft land at the designated landing site and is intended to increase safety and reduce the burden on the crew in future manned missions.
At an altitude of about 7.3 kilometers from the ground, the capsule began to deploy parachutes, which helped to slow it down during its descent into the Pacific Ocean.
Now that Orion has successfully returned to Earth, NASA will begin collecting data from the sensor-equipped dummies on board to prepare for future human missions. The second Artemis mission, scheduled for 2024, will send a team of astronauts around the moon. NASA plans to eventually return humans to the lunar surface with the Artemis 3 mission, but that may not happen until 2026.