The Artemis I Orion capsule is set to splash down on Sunday after a 25-day journey less than 60 miles from the moon, completing the first stage of an ambitious plan to establish a long-term presence there and later send a shuttle crewed to Mars.
The mission, which overcame several launch delays, will return the unmanned capsule to Earth in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego.
The capsule performed well throughout the nearly month-long journey, Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager, told a news conference Thursday.
“We are on track to complete a fully successful mission,” said Sarafin, who told reporters the leadership team met daily to monitor the capsule’s progress.
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Upon returning to Earth, Orion will deploy parachutes that will float it into the ocean on its final descent, NASA flight director Judd Frieling said Thursday.
After Orion splashes down, it will stay in the water for two hours while NASA tests the heat generated by the capsule when it returns, Frieling said.
Artemis got off to a rocky start with several failed attempts to get the rocket off the ground before the successful launch on November 16.
The first launch attempt on August 29 was canceled due to a faulty temperature sensor which indicated that an engine had not cooled properly when it did.
The second attempt was then cleaned up on September 3 after engineers discovered several leaks of liquid hydrogen. Liquid hydrogen is one of the propellants needed to fill the rocket’s core stage.
A third attempt on Sept. 27 was postponed after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida and gradually moved into the northeast part of the state as well as the Carolinas.
In total, the Artemis Expedition includes four missions, each of which will cost around $4.1 billion. The project will cost up to $93 billion by 2025, according to an audit by NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
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If Artemis I is deemed successful, Artemis II is expected to send four astronauts into space in 2024 for a lunar flyby before returning to Earth.
Artemis III plans to send four astronauts to the moon in 2025, including the first woman and the first person of color, while Artemis IV plans to land the second moon in 2027.
Besides setting up a permanent base camp on the Moon, the program aims to be the gateway to possible human missions to Mars.
Artemis I Orion capsule ready to splash down after NASA’s mission to the moon originally appeared on abcnews.go.com