Nasa Moon’s Orion capsule set to splash after record-breaking trip

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After making a close pass to the Moon and venturing further into space than any previous habitable spacecraft, NASA’s Orion capsule is due to splash down on Sunday in a mission’s final test. high stakes called Artemis.
As it hurtles through Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) per hour, the gumball-shaped traveler will have to withstand a temperature of 2,800 degrees centigrade (5,000 Fahrenheit), about half that of the surface of the sun.
Splashdown in the Pacific off the Mexican island of Guadalupe is scheduled for 5:39 p.m. GMT (9:39 a.m. local time).
Achieving this mission of just over 25 days is essential for NASA, which has invested tens of billions of dollars in the Artemis program to bring people back to the Moon and prepare for a later trip, one day, to Mars. .
So far, the first test of this unmanned spacecraft has gone very well.
But it’s only in the final minutes of this trip that the real challenge comes: to see if Orion’s heat shield, the largest ever built, really holds up.
“It’s safety-critical equipment. It’s designed to protect the spacecraft and the passengers, the astronauts on board. So the heat shield has to work,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager.
A first test of the capsule was carried out in 2014 but this time the capsule remained in Earth orbit, so it returned to the atmosphere at a slower speed of around 20,000 miles per hour.
A US Navy ship, the USS Portland, was positioned in the Pacific to retrieve the Orion capsule in an exercise NASA has been doing for years. Helicopters and inflatable boats will also be deployed for this task.
The falling spacecraft will first be slowed by Earth’s atmosphere, then by a network of 11 parachutes until it slows to a speed of 20 miles (30 kilometers) per hour when it finally hits the waters Pacific blue.
Once there, NASA will float Orion for two hours, much longer than if astronauts were inside, to collect data.
“We’ll see how the heat comes back into the crew module and how that affects the temperature inside,” said Jim Geffre, NASA’s Orion vehicle integration manager.
Divers will then attach cables to Orion to hoist it onto the USS Portland, which is an amphibious transport dock ship, the rear of which will be partially submerged. This water will be pumped slowly so that the spacecraft can rest on a platform designed to contain it.
This should all take around four to six hours from the time the ship first splashes down.
The Navy vessel will then head to San Diego, Calif., where the spacecraft will be unloaded a few days later.
When it returns to Earth, the spacecraft will have traveled 1.4 million miles since its liftoff on Nov. 16 using a monstrous rocket called SLS.
At its closest point to the Moon, it flew within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the surface. And it broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, venturing 268,000 miles (432,000 kilometers) from our planet.
Recovering the spacecraft will allow NASA to collect crucial data for future missions.
This includes information on the state of the ship after its flight, data from monitors that measure acceleration and vibration, and the performance of a special vest placed on a dummy in the capsule to test how to protect people from radiation while flying in space.
Some components of the capsule should be able to be reused in the Artemis 2 mission, which is already in an advanced stage of planning.
This next mission scheduled for 2024 will take a crew to the Moon but still without landing there. NASA should soon name the astronauts selected for this trip.
Artemis 3, scheduled for 2025, will see a spacecraft land for the first time at the south pole of the Moon, which contains water in the form of ice.
Only 12 people – all white men – have set foot on the Moon. They did it during the Apollo missions, the last of which was in 1972.
Artemis is to send a woman and a person of color to the Moon for the first time.
NASA’s goal is to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, through a base on its surface and a space station revolving around it. Teaching people to live on the Moon should help engineers develop technologies for a multi-year trip to Mars, possibly in the late 2030s.


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