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NASA’s Orion capsule collapses in the Pacific after historic Artemis-1 mission to the Moon

The capsule will be picked up by a US Navy ship in the waters off the Mexican island of Guadalupe.


NASA’s Orion space capsule crashed safely in the Pacific on Sunday, completing the Artemis 1 mission – a 25-plus-day journey around the Moon with a view to bringing humans back there in just a few years.

After passing through the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 40,000 kilometers per hour (25,000 mph), the unmanned capsule floated out to sea using three large red and white parachutes, as pictured seen on NASA television.

After a few hours of trials, the ship will be recovered by a US Navy ship in the waters off Mexico’s Baja California.

The gumball-shaped capsule had to withstand a temperature of 2,800 degrees centigrade (5,000 Fahrenheit) – about half that of the surface of the sun – when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

The main purpose of this mission was to test Orion’s heat shield – for the day it’s humans and not to test dummies inside.

The success of this mission was essential for NASA, which has invested tens of billions of dollars in the Artemis program to bring people back to the Moon and prepare for a later trip, one day, to Mars.

A first test of the capsule was carried out in 2014 but this time it remained in Earth orbit, re-entering the atmosphere at a slower speed of around 20,000 miles per hour.

– Choppers, divers and boats –

The USS Portland was positioned to retrieve the Orion capsule in an exercise NASA has been doing for years. Helicopters and rubber dinghies were also deployed for this task.

The plummeting spacecraft reached speeds of 20 miles (30 kilometers) per hour when it finally touched down in the blue waters of the Pacific.

NASA will now float Orion for two hours – much longer than if the astronauts were inside – to collect data.

“We’ll see how the heat comes back into the crew module and how that affects the temperature inside,” Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle integration manager at NASA, said last week.

Divers will then attach cables to hoist Orion onto the USS Portland, which is an amphibious transport dock ship, the stern of which will be partially submerged. This water will be pumped slowly so that the spacecraft can rest on a platform designed to contain it.

This should all take about four to six hours after splashing.

The Navy vessel will then head to San Diego, Calif., where the spacecraft will be unloaded a few days later.

Back on Earth, the spacecraft has covered 1.4 million kilometers since its liftoff on November 16 using a monstrous rocket called SLS.

At its closest point to the Moon, it flew within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the surface. And it broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, venturing 268,000 miles (432,000 kilometers) from our planet.

– Artemis 2 and 3 –

Recovering the spacecraft will allow NASA to collect crucial data for future missions.

This includes information on the state of the ship after its flight, data from monitors that measure acceleration and vibration, and the performance of a special vest placed on a dummy in the capsule to test how to protect people from radiation while flying in space.

Some components of the capsule should be able to be reused in the Artemis 2 mission, already in advanced planning stages.

This next mission scheduled for 2024 will take a crew to the Moon but still without landing there. NASA is expected to name the selected astronauts soon.

Artemis 3, scheduled for 2025, will see a spacecraft land for the first time at the south pole of the Moon, which contains water in the form of ice.

Only 12 people – all white men – have set foot on the Moon. They did it during the Apollo missions, the last of which was in 1972.

Artemis is to send a woman and a person of color to the Moon for the first time.

NASA’s goal is to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, through a base on its surface and a space station revolving around it. Teaching people to live on the Moon should help engineers develop technologies for a multi-year trip to Mars, possibly in the late 2030s.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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