NASA’s Orion capsule returns from a trip around the moon after completing the first mission of Apollo’s successor

“Here it is, high above the Pacific, America’s new ticket to ride, to the moon and beyond,” was the message from mission control.

NASA’s Artemis I mission came to a dramatic end on Sunday morning as an unmanned Orion capsule returned from its trip around the moon to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, ahead of a predicted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.

The arrival marked a milestone in the Artemis program, an ambitious initiative to get human astronauts back to the Moon by 2024, as part of a larger effort to foster a continued human presence there and to lay the groundwork for a possible human exploration of Mars.

Imagery that NASA’s Orion spacecraft captured looking at Earth from a camera mounted on one of its solar arrays ((NASA via AP))

Orion launched into space with its crew of test dummies on Nov. 16 in the first test of NASA’s massive new Space Launch System rocket and flew about 239,000 miles to the moon before starting his journey back to Earth.

The $4 billion flight involved the craft spending about a week in orbit around the lunar surface.

In addition to advancing NASA’s successor to the famed Apollo moon landing program, the Artemis I tested a host of new technologies and maneuvers, such as a carbon fiber and titanium heat shield, which was expected to achieve temperatures of 5000 degrees Fahrenheit (2800 Celsius) as Orion descended back to Earth.

NASA's Artemis 1 mission lifts off ((Nasa/Bill Ingalls))

NASA’s Artemis 1 mission lifts off ((Nasa/Bill Ingalls))

NASA mission planners also used a new “jump” maneuver on Orion’s approach.

“While not a perfect analogy, Orion will mimic a rock leaping across a pond by plunging into Earth’s atmosphere, jumping, and then re-entering,” said aerospace company Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for the project. , in a press release. “Performed by the crew pod, this maneuver gives Orion more room to travel before crashing, allowing him to be more precise with where he lands.”

The Artemis mission initially struggled to get off the ground.

An engine problem, a fuel leak, and then Hurricane Ian delayed the launch of the Orion capsule from late August to November.

Once in the sky, there were a few other issues.

The mission was carrying a payload of 10 miniature satellites, four of which appeared to have suffered various failures.

This is news in development and will be updated with new information.

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