After a voyage to the Moon, NASA’s Orion capsule splashes down in the Pacific Ocean

The test flight is expected to clear the way for the subsequent crewed mission to orbit the Moon.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

After a lightning-fast voyage back from the Moon, the Orion capsule of NASA’s spacecraft successfully parachuted into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico on Sunday, marking the successful completion of the mission. The test flight is expected to clear the way for the subsequent crewed mission to orbit the Moon.

Before splashing down in the water off the coast of Baja California near Guadalupe Island, the capsule travelled through the atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound. It also experienced temperatures of 2,760 degrees Celsius. A ship from the United States Navy immediately located the device and its three silent inmates, test dummies equipped with radiation monitors and vibration sensors.

Orion successfully photographed the Moon on flight day 20 of the Artemis I mission, which occurred on December 5, 2022. This was the day of the return powered flypast, which was the final big engine manoeuvre of the flight test. The manoeuvre, which altered the spacecraft’s speed by approximately 655 miles per hour and lasted for three minutes and twenty-seven seconds, was performed on the service module of the spacecraft built in Europe (961 feet per second).

During re-entry, Orion faced temperatures of approximately 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or almost half as hot as the surface of the Sun. Orion slowed from about 250,000 mph to approximately 20 mph for its parachute-assisted splashdown in about 20 minutes.

Orion conducted two lunar flybys during the mission, getting within 80 miles of the Moon’s surface on both occasions. At its greatest distance during the trip, Orion flew over 270,000 miles from Earth, which is more than 1,000 times further than the International Space Station’s orbit. This was done on purpose to stress the systems before crewed flights.

During the flight test, Orion remained in orbit longer than any other astronaut-designed spacecraft that did not dock with a space station. While in a far lunar orbit, Orion beat the record set by Apollo 13 for the greatest distance travelled by a human-carrying spacecraft.

Manned Moon project on course 

Because the mission was a success, NASA can now stay on track with its preparations for the next Orion flypast around the Moon, which is scheduled to occur in 2024 and will involve four astronauts who will be named at the beginning of the following year. After that mission, an attempt will be made to land two humans on the Moon as soon as the year 2025, with the ultimate objective of building a lunar outpost that is there to stay. A mission to Mars is envisioned to be launched as part of the long-term strategy sometime in the 1930s.

The last time humans set foot on the Moon was fifty years ago, on December 11, 1972, when Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt of the Apollo 17 crew landed on the Moon and spent three days exploring the surface of Earth’s satellite moon. They were the final two astronauts out of 12 who had travelled to the Moon.

Since then, Orion has been the first spacecraft to visit the Moon in a crewed mission successfully. The mission got underway on November 16 with a launch from the Kennedy Space Center. This will be the first mission of NASA’s new lunar programme, which has been given the name “Artemis” (Artemis) in honour of Apollo’s fabled sister (“Apollo”).

Because the speed at which the spacecraft returned to Earth, specifically 40,000 kilometres per hour, is significantly higher than the speeds at which spacecraft return from low-Earth orbit, the capsule was equipped with a new and advanced heat shield, which was tested for the first time in space flight. Because of the need to lessen the gravitational stresses, the spacecraft known as “Orion” briefly entered the atmosphere before bouncing back out. This enabled the landing site to be estimated with greater accuracy.

“I don’t think any of us could have imagined a more successful mission,” said mission manager Mike Sarafin.

When Orion was close to the Moon, it travelled a distance of 2.25 million kilometres. After that, it entered a lunar orbit that was both wide and steep for about a week before beginning its journey back to Earth. 

Further tests for Orion

In the next few days, Orion will return to the shore, where specialists will unload and transport it back to Kennedy Space Center via truck. Once at Kennedy, workers will open the hatch and discharge multiple items, such as Commander Moonikin Campos, the space biology experiments, and Snoopy. The capsule and its heat shield will be tested and analysed for several months.


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