Nasa has brought back to Earth, Orion, its next-generation astronaut ship after a near-26-day mission to orbit the Moon.
The Orion capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday after a fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and a descent that was further slowed by parachutes.
The uncrewed spacecraft had a “picture perfect splashdown” in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego at 12:40 p.m. E.T., according to officials.
The capsule’s return marked the end of NASA’s Artemis I test flight — the crucial first launch and expedition of the agency’s new mega-rocket and space capsule for missions to the moon.
Because this was a test, there were no people aboard this time, but that will change for the next flight.
NASA is planning ever more complex missions with Orion. These will likely start in late 2024 and include, in 2025 or 2026, an attempt to put humans back on the lunar surface.
Orion mission a “vision for the future” says NASA
This was last achieved exactly 50 years ago to the day by the crew of Apollo 17. The agency’s new project is called Artemis, who in Greek mythology was the sister of Apollo.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Sunday was a “defining day” that “marks new technology, a whole new breed of astronaut” and “a vision for the future.”
“This is an extraordinary day,” Nelson said. “It’s historic because we are now going back into space, into deep space, with a new generation.”
Fifty years ago to the day, astronauts on the final mission of NASA’s Apollo program, Apollo 17, became the last humans to walk on the moon.
“A new day has dawned, and Artemis generation is taking us there,” Nelson said.
Orion broke a new record in late November when it reached the furthest distance from earth ever traveled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans.
The milestone was recorded on November 28th as the unmanned capsule reached a distance of circa 270,000 miles (434,523 kilometers) from the earth.
According to the US Space Agency, the capsule launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on 16 November, has traveled more than 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) beyond the far side of the moon.
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