Miami, Dec 11 (EFE).- The uncrewed Orion space capsule successfully returned to Earth on Sunday after a 26-day journey around the Moon, closing out the historic Artemis I mission that is the vanguard effort for a program NASA has in the works to establish a permanent base on our closest celestial neighbor.
The Orion capsule entered the atmosphere and parachuted into the Pacific ocean off Baja California right on schedule at 11:40 am after sequentially deploying a total of 11 parachutes that enabled it to reduce its speed from 325 miles per hour to about 20 mph.
Minutes before its watery touchdown, the spacecraft had entered the atmosphere traveling at about 25,000 mph at an altitude of 400,000 feet, or 76 miles.
During the reentry process, Orion experienced temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees F (some 2,800 C), equivalent to half the temperature on the Sun’s surface and which an innovative heat shield 16 feet wide helped it to resist.
“Splashdown! … The latest chapter of NASA’s journey to the moon comes to a close: Orion back on Earth,” NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said Sunday during the US space agency’s livestream of the Pacific landing.
About 10 minutes later, helicopters dispatched from the US Navy vessel USS Portland overflew the floating capsule and confirmed to mission controllers that it was in good shape after its fiery reentry and splashdown, thus concluding the 1.4 million mile mission that began with liftoff from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 16.
“This is an extraordinary day. It’s historic because we are now going back into space, into deep space, with a new generation,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “A new day has dawned, and Artemis … is taking us there.”
NASA’s plan is to send the Artemis II mission aloft in 2024 and Artemis III the next year, during which astronauts – including one woman – will set foot on the Moon for the first time since 1972, when the Apollo 17 astronauts, the crew most recently sent to the lunar surface, did so.
Coincidentally, it was exactly 50 years ago today that the Apollo 17 astronauts became the last humans to step onto the Moon.