NASA’s Orion Moonship Successfully Lands On Earth After Maiden Lunar Journey

Ramish Zafar
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.
The first view of Orion after its parachutes open. Image: NASA

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) completed its historic Artemis 1 mission earlier today after the spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Orion launched on NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in November. Since then, America's first lunar spacecraft for humans has completed various milestones and set new records on its lunar journey. These include the longest distance traveled for a spaceship of its kind and evaluating the lunar orbit for NASA's Gateway space station, which will form the backbone of the Artemis program.

Orion's Splashdown Marks Completion Of Maiden Voyage of NASA's Artemis Program

Today's milestone was one of the most important for Artemis 1, even though Orion had finished its journey around the Moon earlier this week. This is due to the fact one of the most important components of the ship, its heat shield, remained untested before today's atmospheric entry. The reentry saw Orion enter the Earth at staggering temperatures up to 5,000 Fahrenheit. These conditions cannot be simulated on Earth and an atmospheric entry is necessary to determine whether the heat shield's design works according to plan.

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The first significant milestone for today's landing took place at 11:00 central time when Orion's European Service Module separated from the spacecraft. This module houses the ship's engines and its solar panels, and it is responsible for powering its flight around the room. Soon after, a raise burn was conducted to change the ship's speed to 8.12 feet per second to orient it for the correct position to enter the Earth.

Orion entered the Earth's atmosphere at 24,464 miles per hour with a splashdown range of 1,359 statute miles. Soon afterward, the ship was traveling at 17,000 miles per hour at an altitude of 274,000 feet. After the first communications blackout occurred, and the visual acquisition was subsequently gained roughly eight minutes before splashdown, the ship was at 174,00 feet at a speed of 12,600 miles per hour and a 288 statute mile range.

NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.
orion-reentry-flames-1
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022 from inside ship.
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.
NASA Orion reentry December 11 2022.

Splashdown took place (unofficial time) at 11:40 am central time, immediately after which the parachutes separated from the ship and its crew module uprighting bags inflated. The parachutes are separated immediately after splashdown to ensure that they are not swept up by the ocean currents to pull the spacecraft with them. The bags ensure that the ship remains in the correct orientation after splashdown.

Helicopters for the U.S. Navy flying from the USS Portland started to visually inspect the ship after it landed on Earth and confirmed that no physical damage or fuel leaks were present on the ship.

While cameras covering the landing started broadcasting alter on, crews of the Portland had the best seat of the show as they could get live views of the first American spacecraft returning from the Moon since the Apollo program. The helicopters flew in circular tracks around the Orion, and debris generated from the parachute deployment and other landing events were marked by the U.S. Navy by floatable smoke grenades.

They were equipped with ultra high definition cameras with 8K resolution support to capture all details, and the Portland waited for the ammonia to vent off from the Orion before traveling to a mile away from it. Ammonia is used for keeping the crew cool during their missions, and Orion will stay in the ocean for two hours as NASA engineers evaluate its cooling systems and the rate at which heat is dissipated.

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