NASA’s flagship Artemis I mission has come to a successful close with a dramatic splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Hailed as a major stepping stone towards a manned mission to the Moon within the next few years, Artemis I concluded yesterday when the unmanned Orion capsule splashed down off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.
Just moments before, it had experienced what was described as a “hellish re-entry” in which it careened through the atmosphere hotter and faster than any other space vehicle in history.
At one point, it was traveling at a staggering 25,000mph (32 times the speed of sound) while its protective heat shield reached temperatures of up to 2,800 degrees Celsius.
NASA has been testing the spacecraft to the limit during its trip around the Moon to ensure that it is more than capable of supporting astronauts during future manned missions.
“[Orion] still has all that energy that the launch rocket first put into it,” NASA’s John Kowal said during a livestream prior to the landing.
“All that energy – enough to power 4,000 to 5,000 homes in a day – we have to get rid of.”
“The vehicle comes slamming into the atmosphere and starts trying to push the air out of the way. That air is pushing back, the pressures go up, the temperatures go up – we’re talking upwards of around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the flow field.”
“The flow field wants to give that energy back, so that’s what the heat shield is going to see.”
The successful splashdown marks a positive end to NASA’s long-awaited debut mission of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule and a major step towards a manned Moon landing.
The next mission, Artemis II, will carry astronauts on a trip around the Moon and back again.
If all goes to plan, it will launch sometime around May 2024.