After traveling 2.2 million kilometers beyond the Moon, the Orion spacecraft of the Artemis I mission is analyzed by NASA technicians at the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida. The final return of Orion occurred on December 30 after being transported by truck from the San Diego Naval Base (California), to the Multiple Load Processing Facility of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, in Florida.
According to NASA, technicians will now remove the capsule’s payloads as part of decommissioning operations, including the ‘Commander Moonikin Campos’ test dummy, a Snoopy zero-gravity indicator and the official flight kit. Orion’s heat shield and other items will be removed for further analysis.
On December 11, the spacecraft plunged into the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, at 9:40 a.m., after an unprecedented mission, traveling more than 2.2 million kilometers (1.4 million miles). on a path around the Moon and safely returning to Earth, completing flight tests.
The splashdown is the final milestone of the Artemis I mission, which began with a successful liftoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on November 16, from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. Over the course of 26 days, NASA tested Orion in the harsh environment of deep space.
Orion made two lunar flybys coming within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the lunar surface. At its farthest distance during the mission, Orion traveled nearly 453,000 kilometers (270,000 miles) from our home planet, a thousand times farther than where the International Space Station orbits Earth, to intentionally subdue systems before flying the crew.
During flight testing, it stayed in space longer than any spacecraft designed for astronauts without docking to a space station. While in distant lunar orbit, Orion surpassed the record for distance traveled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans, previously set during Apollo 13.
Before entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the crew module was separated from its service module, which is the propulsion power plant provided by the ESA (European Space Agency). During reentry, it endured temperatures about half as hot as the Sun’s surface at about 2800 degrees Celsius. In about 20 minutes, Orion slowed from nearly 40,000 kilometers (25,000 mph) to about 30 kilometers per hour (20 mph) for its parachute-assisted splashdown.
Artemis II, the next mission of the Space Launch System and Orion rocket, plans to carry human crew around the Moon.