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The Artemis I mission ends with the Orion capsule splashdown

(CNN) – The Artemis I mission, a 25 1/2-day unmanned test flight around the moon intended to pave the way for future astronaut missions, ended after NASA’s Orion spacecraft plunged into the ocean Sunday.

The spacecraft has completed the last leg of its journey, approaching the thick inner layer of Earth’s atmosphere after traversing the 239,000 miles (385,000 km) between the Moon and Earth. It splashed at 12:40 p.m. ET this Sunday in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California, Mexico.

The Orion capsule was scheduled to rain down near San Diego, but NASA officials said Thursday that rain, winds and large waves have moved into that area and no longer meet the space agency’s weather standards.

Rob Navias, the NASA commentator who led Sunday’s broadcast, called re-entry a “playbook” process.

The Orion capsule, with its three main parachutes, approaches the surface of the ocean. Credit: NASA/Youtube

This last step was one of the most important and dangerous stages of the mission.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. The next big test is a heat shield,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CNN in a phone interview Thursday, referring to the barrier designed to protect the Orion capsule from the unbearable physics of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The spacecraft was traveling at 32 times the speed of sound (24,850 mph or roughly 40,000 kph) when it hit the air, so fast that compression waves caused the spacecraft’s exterior to heat up to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (2760 ° C). The intense heat also ionized air molecules, resulting in a buildup of plasma that caused the expected dimming, According to Artemis I Flight Director Judd Frieling.

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As the capsule reaches about 200,000 miles (322,000 km) above Earth’s surface, it will perform a roll maneuver that will send it upwards for a brief moment, like skipping a boulder across the surface of a lake.

There are several reasons to try the jumping maneuver.

Joe Bomba, Lockheed Martin’s president of Orion Aeronautics, said: Release. Lockheed is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.

“By dividing the heat and force of return into two events, jumping also provides benefits such as reducing the G-forces experienced by astronauts,” according to Lockheed, referring to the crushing forces humans experience during spaceflight.

As it embarked on its final descent, the capsule slowed dramatically, losing thousands of miles per hour until its parachutes deployed. Orion fell at 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour).

While there are no astronauts on this experimental mission – only a few dummies equipped to collect data and snoopy doll – Nelson, head of NASA, stressed the importance of proving that the capsule can return safely.

The space agency’s plans are to turn the Artemis lunar missions into a program that will send astronauts to Mars, a journey that will have a much faster and bolder re-entry process.

The Orion capsule captures a view of the Moon’s surface, with Earth in the background as a crescent moon illuminated by the Sun. (credit: NASA)

Upon returning from this mission, Orion will have traveled nearly 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) on a circular path toward a distant lunar orbit, carrying the capsule Farther than any spacecraft has ever traveled Designed to transport people.

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A secondary objective for this mission was the Orion Service Module, a cylindrical attachment at the bottom of the spacecraft, to deploy 10 small satellites. But at least four of those satellites failed after being launched into orbit, including a small lunar lander developed at Japan And one of NASA’s own payloads It was to be one of the first small satellites for interplanetary space exploration.

On its flight, the spacecraft is captured Amazing Photos From Earth, and during two close flybys, pictures of the lunar surface are fantastic “Earth height”.

Nelson said that if he had to give the Artemis I mission a letter grade so far, it would be an A.

“Not an A-plus, simply because we expect things to go wrong. The good news is that when they do go wrong, NASA knows how to fix them,” Nelson said. But “If I were a teacher, I would give it an A plus.”

If the Artemis I mission is successful, NASA will dive into the data collected on this flight and look to select a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could take off in 2024.

Artemis II aims to send astronauts on a trajectory similar to Artemis 1, flying around the Moon but not landing on its surface.

Artemis III mission, Currently scheduled for a 2025 releasewill set foot on the Moon again, and NASA officials have said it will feature the first woman and first person of color to achieve such a feat.