artemis 1

WASHINGTON — Fifty years to the day after the last Apollo moon mission touched down on the lunar surface, NASA’s plans to return to the moon took a major step forward with the successful splashdown of the Orion spacecraft to end the Artemis 1 mission.

The Orion spacecraft splashed down off the coast of Baja California at 12:40 p.m. Eastern Dec. 11, ending the 25.5-day Artemis 1 uncrewed test flight. The splashdown took place near recovery forces led by the USS Portland, which will haul the capsule onto the ship to transport back to the port of San Diego, California.

After the European Service Module separated at 12:00 p.m. Eastern, the Orion crew capsule performed a “skip” reentry, descending first to an altitude of about 60 kilometers, then ascending to about 90 kilometers before completing the rest of descent. That maneuver is designed to reduce g-forces on the spacecraft and allows more flexibility in selecting a landing site.

Successfully completing reentry at lunar return velocities of up to 40,000 kilometers per hour was the top objective of the Artemis 1 mission, since there was no other way to test the spacecraft’s thermal protection system. “There is no arcjet or aerothermal facility here on Earth of replicating hypersonic reentry with a heat shield of this size,” said Mike Sarafin, NASA Artemis 1 mission manager, at a Dec. 8 briefing.

“It is a safety-critical piece of equipment. It is designed to protect the spacecraft and the passengers, the astronauts on board,” he said. “So the heat shield needs to work.”

After splashdown, NASA planned to leave the capsule in the water and powered on for two hours to conduct a “soakback” test to see how the capsule handled the heat from reentry. Teams will then use boats to tow the capsule into the well deck of the USS Portland, where it will be secured in a cradle and the deck drained before heading to San Diego.

The splashdown concluded a long-delayed mission that started with a launch on the first flight of the Space Launch System Nov. 16 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the second time the Orion capsule flew in space, after the brief Exploration Flight Test 1 orbital mission in December 2014, but the first to feature the full Orion spacecraft that included the European Service Module.

Orion flew by the moon Nov. 21, passing about 130 kilometers above the surface as it performed a maneuver to send the spacecraft towards a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. Orion entered that orbit Nov. 25, departing Dec. 1 and performing another lunar flyby and maneuver Dec. 5 that put the spacecraft on course back to Earth.

The splashdown took place 50 years to the day after Apollo 11’s Lunar Module touched down in the Taurus-Littrow region of the moon on the sixth and final Apollo lunar landing mission. No humans have been beyond low Earth orbit since the conclusion of that mission.

Sarafin, at the Dec. 8 briefing, noted Artemis 1 was the 65th mission supporting human spaceflight he had been involved with. “I love flight testing,” he said when asked to compare Artemis 1 with Apollo 17. “The first time you do anything is harder than a repeat.”

“Firsts are harder, because you don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “But as you get to more and more challenging missions, like Apollo 17, that becomes a harder question to answer.”

“Artemis 1 is a test flight,” added Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle integration manager. “You learn things that you didn’t anticipate.”

The first crewed Orion mission, Artemis 2, is projected to take place no earlier than late 2024. It will take four astronauts, including one from the Canadian Space Agency, on a flight around the moon and back.


NASA Makes Asteroid Defense a Priority, Moving its NEO Surveyor Mission Into the Development Phase

There’s an old adage in the engineering field – what gets funded gets built. So it’s sure to be a happy time over at the Planetary Society, as NEO Surveyor, the project the organization has primarily supported over the past few years, has made it through NASA’s grueling budgetary ...

View more: NASA Makes Asteroid Defense a Priority, Moving its NEO Surveyor Mission Into the Development Phase

Lightweight Picogram-Scale Probes Could be the Best way to Explore Other Star Systems

Inspiration for space exploration can come from all corners. One of the most inspiring, or terrifying, sources of inspiration for some in space exploration came from computer science expert John von Neumann, who laid out a framework for self-replicating machines in a series of lectures he gave in 1948. ...

View more: Lightweight Picogram-Scale Probes Could be the Best way to Explore Other Star Systems

The Universe is Brighter Than we Thought

Over seven years ago, the New Horizons mission made history when it became the first spacecraft to conduct a flyby of Pluto. In the leadup to this encounter, the spacecraft provided updated data and images of many objects in the inner and outer Solar System. Once beyond the orbit ...

View more: The Universe is Brighter Than we Thought

Is the Milky Way… Normal?

Studying the large-scale structure of our galaxy isn’t easy. We don’t have a clear view of the Milky Way’s shape and features like we do of other galaxies, largely because we live within it. But we do have some advantages. From within, we’re able to carry out close-up surveys ...

View more: Is the Milky Way… Normal?

Anti-Helium Generated in the Large Hadron Collider can Help in the Search for Dark Matter

For decades, astrophysicists have theorized that the majority of matter in our Universe is made up of a mysterious invisible mass known as “Dark Matter” (DM). While scientists have not yet found any direct evidence of this invisible mass or confirmed what it looks like, there are several possible ...

View more: Anti-Helium Generated in the Large Hadron Collider can Help in the Search for Dark Matter

Webb’s New Image Reveals a Galaxy Awash in Star Formation

When a spiral galaxy presents itself just right, observations reveal more detail. That’s the case with NGC 7469, a spiral galaxy about 220 million light-years away. It’s face-on towards us, and the James Webb Space Telescope captured its revealing scientific portrait. NGC 7469 is scientifically interesting for a number ...

View more: Webb’s New Image Reveals a Galaxy Awash in Star Formation

SpaceX wins Sentinel 6B radar satellite launch contract

SpaceX has won a contract to launch the joint US-European Sentinel 6B radar satellite as early as November 2025. Five years ago, NASA also chose SpaceX to launch Sentinel 6A, the first of two identical satellites designed to use radar altimeters to determine global sea levels more accurately than ...

View more: SpaceX wins Sentinel 6B radar satellite launch contract

Scientists Investigate Potential Regolith Origin on Uranus’ Moon, Miranda

In a recent study published in The Planetary Science Journal, a pair of researchers led by The Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute in California investigated the potential origin for the thick regolith deposits on Uranus’ moon, Miranda. The purpose of this study was to determine Miranda’s internal ...

View more: Scientists Investigate Potential Regolith Origin on Uranus’ Moon, Miranda

A Star Came too Close to a Black Hole. It Didn’t End Well

Perseverance Places its First Sample on the Surface of Mars. One Day This Will be in the Hands of Scientists on Earth

SpaceX might launch first Starlink Gen2 satellites next week

NASA Just Tested a new Engine That Will Launch Artemis V and Beyond

This Will Probably Be InSight’s Last Picture Before it Runs Out of Power Forever

Webb Stares Deeply Into the Universe, Showing How Galaxies Assemble

Astronomers Scanned 12 Planets for Alien Signals While They Were in Front of Their Stars

What Kind of an Impact did DART Have on Dimorphos? The Science Results are Here

Comet Impacts Could Have Brought the Raw Ingredients for Life to Europa’s Ocean

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet gains 750,000 subscribers in nine months

Ukraine will get 10,000+ more Starlink antennas

Astronomers Spot Stars in the Most Distant Galaxies for the First Time


Top Car News Car News