NASA’s long-awaited Artemis I mission concluded Sunday with the Orion space capsule splashing down west of Baja California in the Pacific Ocean, paving the way for an ambitious program ahead.
The 25.5 day long mission began in the early morning hours of November 16 after several false starts going all the way back to August drew public skepticism.
The uncrewed mission put intentional stress on the Orion capsule to ensure its safety for humans—opening the door for future crewed missions.
Nonetheless, the test mission did make some history of its own. NASA said in a press release that the capsule stayed in space longer than any other designed for humans without docking to a space station. On one of its two lunar flybys, the capsule also set the record for longest distance traveled by a spacecraft designed for humans.
Before its return to Earth, the crew module separated from the service module provided by the European Space Agency. Within about twenty minutes of reentry, Orion had deployed its parachutes for splashdown, slowing from 25,000 miles per hour to just 20 miles per hour.
NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free says that the success of this last part of the mission indicates that the administration is ready for the program to move forward with a regular cadence.
But first, NASA must bring the Orion capsule ashore so it can be shipped back to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Once there, teams will recover its payload and perform an analysis on the capsule.
This milestone in the mission comes on the 50-year anniversary of the last time humans landed on the moon with Apollo 17 on December 11th, 1972.
50 years ago today: Astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt go on the first moonwalk of the Apollo 17 mission, December 11, 1972. pic.twitter.com/il99IJELAk
— Humanoid History (@HumanoidHistory) December 11, 2022
The Artemis program’s goal is to send humans back to the moon for the first time since then. Artemis II, currently set for 2024, is set to send humans into orbit around the moon. Artemis III, currently set for 2025, hopes to send humans back to the surface. Long-term, the program hopes to gear up to colonize the moon and send humans to Mars. Along the way, NASA intends to bring women and people of color to the moon for the first time.
Listen below: Jacob Sedesse reported this story for WUFT-FM.