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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) completed its historic Artemis 1 mission earlier today after the spacecraft plunged into the Pacific Ocean. Orion was launched on a NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in November. Since then, the first US lunar spacecraft for humans has completed many milestones and set new records in its journey to the Moon. These include the longest distance traveled by a spacecraft of its kind and the lunar orbit assessment of NASA’s Gateway space station, which will form the backbone of the Artemis program.
Splashdown Orion marks the completion of the first flight of NASA’s Artemis program
Today’s landmark was one of the highlights of Artemis 1, even though Orion ended its journey around the moon earlier this week. This is due to the fact that one of the most important components of the ship, the heat shield, was not tested prior to entering the atmosphere today. Reentry saw Orion enter Earth in staggering temperatures of 5,000 Fahrenheit. These conditions cannot be simulated on Earth and entry into the atmosphere is necessary to determine if the heat shield design is working according to plan.
Today’s first significant landing milestone occurred at 11:00 Central Time when the European Service Module of Orion separated from the spacecraft. This unit houses the ship’s engines and solar panels, and is responsible for powering its flight around the room. Soon after, a high burner was performed to change the ship’s speed to 8.12 feet per second to guide it into the correct position for land entry.
Orion entered Earth’s atmosphere at 24,464 miles per hour with a splashdown range of 1,359 statutory miles. Soon after, the ship was traveling at 17,000 miles per hour at an altitude of 274,000 feet. After the first communications blackout occurred, and visual acquisition subsequently gained approximately eight minutes before crashing, the ship was at an altitude of 174,00 feet at a speed of 12,600 miles per hour and a range of 288 statutory miles.
Splashdown (unofficial time) occurred at 11:40 a.m. Central Time, immediately after which the parachutes separated from the ship and the crew module bags inflated. The parachutes separate immediately upon landing to ensure that they are not swept away by ocean currents, dragging the spacecraft with them. The bags ensure that the vessel remains in the correct orientation after being sprayed.
US Navy helicopters flying from the USS Portland began a visual inspection of the ship after it landed on the ground and confirmed there was no physical damage or fuel leakage on the ship.
As cameras covering the lander began broadcasting, the Portland crews had the best seat in the show from where they could get live views of the first US spacecraft returning from the moon since the Apollo program. The helicopters flew in circular paths around Orion, and debris generated from parachute deployment and other landing events was marked by the US Navy with floating smoke grenades.
It was outfitted with ultra-high-resolution cameras with 8K resolution support to capture all the details, and Portland waited for Orion’s ammonia to escape before traveling within a mile of it. Ammonia is used to keep the crew cool during their missions, and Orion will remain in the ocean for two hours as NASA engineers evaluate its cooling systems and heat dissipation rate.