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NASA’s Artemis I mission returns from the Moon : NPR

NASA’s Orion capsule crashed in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

NASA Live Stream / Screenshot by NPR

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NASA Live Stream / Screenshot by NPR

NASA's Artemis I mission returns from the Moon : NPR

NASA’s Orion capsule crashed in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

NASA Live Stream / Screenshot by NPR

NASA’s new multi-billion dollar spacecraft successfully returned from the moon on Sunday, one step closer to getting American astronauts back to the moon by 2025.

The Orion capsule crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California at 9:40 a.m. PT, marking the success of the first phase of NASA’s Artemis program. Artemis 1 traveled 1.4 million kilometers, circling the moon, and returned in 25.5 days, a feat no other human-sized spacecraft has achieved.

The capsule performed an “entry jump” descent where it dipped in and out of the atmosphere before re-entering to slow the vehicle. This type of descent will also provide data for splash sites for future crewed missions, NASA spokesman Rob Navias said on the NASA Live Stream on Sunday.

A key part of the descent was to test the spacecraft’s heat shield against the “blazing heat of entry” where temperatures soared to around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit around Orion, Navias said. It’s half as hot as the sun’s outer surface.

The successful splashdown keeps NASA’s Artemis mission on track to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface by 2025. But delays aren’t out of the equation, as reported. saw in the months leading up to the launch of the capsule.

NASA delayed the Artemis 1 mission for several months due to what appeared to be an engine problem at the time, a liquid hydrogen leak, and then a hurricane. The mission was finally launched on November 16.

The lunar program, named after Apollo’s twin sister, hopes to revitalize some of the glory that NASA’s previous moon landing missions garnered half a century ago. Around 600 million people tuned in to watch the Apollo 11 landing in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon.

“It seems appropriate that we honor Apollo with the new legacy of the Artemis generation and this mission today,” said Catherine Koerner, deputy associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, on Sunday.

The next phase of the Artemis program will send the first manned capsule around the moon and back, without landing on the moon, in 2024. NASA next aims to use the Orion capsule and a SpaceX human landing system to land astronauts on the moon for phase three of the program by 2025. The contract with Elon Musk’s company is valued at nearly $2.9 billion.

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin said each of its first three flights will cost more than $4 billion, not including additional billions in development costs. And by the end of fiscal year 2025, NASA estimates it will have spent $93 billion on Artemis missions.

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