NASA’s Orion capsule returns home after a test flight to the Moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s Orion capsule made a lightning-fast return to the moon on Sunday, parachuting into the Pacific off Mexico to wrap up a test flight that should pave the way for astronauts on the next lunar flyby.

The incoming capsule hit the atmosphere at Mach 32, 32 times the speed of sound, and experienced re-entry temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) before crashing west of the Lower -California near Guadalupe Island. A Navy vessel moved quickly to retrieve the spacecraft and its silent occupants – three test dummies equipped with vibration sensors and radiation monitors.

NASA needed a successful splashdown to stay on track for Orion’s next flight around the moon, currently scheduled for 2024. Four astronauts will make the trip. This will be followed by a two-person lunar landing as early as 2025.

Astronauts last landed on the Moon 50 years ago on Sunday. After landing on Dec. 11, 1972, Apollo 17’s Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the lunar surface, the longest sojourn of the Apollo era. They were the last of the 12 moonwalkers.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s Orion capsule and its test dummies rushed to Earth on Sunday to end a 25-day test flight around the moon.

Flight controllers targeted a splash in the Pacific just off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. A Navy recovery vessel was positioned a few miles (kilometers) from the intended site.

Orion blasted off to the Moon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 16 and spent nearly a week in a wide lunar dive orbit before returning home. The $4 billion demo should get astronauts strapped in for the next lunar flyby in a few years.

Orion’s super-fast and hot return coincided with the 50th anniversary of humanity’s last lunar landing, by Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 on December 11, 1972. It was the first capsule to visit the moon since during.

NASA’s Apollo landed 12 astronauts on the moon. Under this new Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, astronauts could be back on the lunar surface as early as 2025.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Education Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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