NASA’s Orion Moon Ship Is Back At Base After Million Mile Journey

Ramish Zafar
NASA Orion snaps a photo of Earth during its return journey on December 11 2022
A remarkable view of Earth from Orion as it headed back earlier this month. Image: NASA

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s Orion spacecraft has returned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after its historical journey around the Moon earlier this month. Orion took off to space on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in mid November and traveled more than a million miles during its journey, which ended after it splashed down in the ocean earlier this month. During its mission, Orion beamed back remarkable images of both the Earth and the Moon, which also saw it travel farthest than any human rated spacecraft has gone in history.

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Orion arrived at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday after being recovered from the Pacific Ocean and sent to the U.S. Navy's San Diego base on the USS Portland. At the base, it was prepared for its journey back to Kennedy, located on the other side of the U.S. The entire trip took a little over two weeks, with engineers in San Diego preparing the spacecraft for its land journey by installing hardcovers, deflating its orientation bags and removing some science payloads sent in space.

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Now that it's at Kennedy, engineers will start disassembling the spacecraft to understand the effects of the journey on its structure. While most of the tests during its journey took place as Orion flew to and back from the Moon, a crucial element that remained untested until just splashdown was the heat shield. This is one of the most important parts of the ship, as without it any crew cannot return to Earth, and NASA had to wait until the mission to thoroughly test it since these conditions cannot be simulated on Earth to mimic the full scale of the heatshield.

NASA Orion at the Kennedy space Center

It arrived at the multi payload processing center at the KSC in the afternoon and was then transported inside the High Bay at night for further inspections. During its journey, Orion met all of NASA's test objectives, but some anomalies did pop up for its power control systems.

These systems use the Sun to generate electricity which is then supplied to a myriad of different equipment on board, such as those for controlling its flight path, making sure astronauts have a habitable environment, monitoring temperature and more. During its flight, some of these circuit breakers turned off without any command being sent by the computer, which led to the ship's propulsion system also going offline.

Some other payloads on the ship are the mannequins placed to understand the effects of the space flight on future astronauts, its zero gravity indicator and the official flight kit. NASA named the mannequin after Arturo Campos - an engineer who saved three astronauts during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 after an oxygen tank exploded on the ship and led to a loss of power to the astronauts. Campos' plan involved redirecting power to the emergency batteries to ensure the crew on board could stay alive until they splashed down on Earth.

With Orion now back at KSC, NASA will next fly the first crewed mission of the Artemis program. The date of the Artemis 2 mission will be influenced by the findings of the Artemis 1 mission, and as part of their journey to the Moon, astronauts will fly on a different path than the Orion spacecraft that is right now in Florida.

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