Orion lands
The Orion capsule lands in the Pacific Ocean after a 25-day voyage around the Moon. Image form NASA livestream

NASA‘s Orion spacecraft splashed down successfully in the Pacific Ocean near Guadalupe Island on Sunday morning, paving the way for future astronaut flights to the Moon and beyond.

The capsule dropped out of the sky under three giant parachutes in view of Navy recovery ships waiting 250 miles south of San Diego. The landing occurred at 9:40 a.m. Pacific time.

Orion‘s return marked the first attempt of a risky “skip entry” re-entry technique, in which the craft dipped into the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere, skipped out of the atmosphere, then re-entered for its final descent.

NASA says the skip entry will help ensure a pinpoint landing location and in the future will allow astronauts to return to Earth under lower g-forces than usual.

The capsule will be recovered by the amphibious transport dock USS Portland and transported to San Diego, arriving at Naval Base San Diego early Tuesday morning.

The recovery team also included the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery to help keep the landing area clear.

During the 25-day mission, Orion circled the Mon in a long elliptical orbit stretching far into space, then accelerated to over 25,000 miles per hour for its re-entry to Earth.

The spacecraft, which blasted off Nov. 16 on NASA’s Space Launch System — the most powerful rocket ever flown — is designed to carry four astronauts on missions of up to 21 days to the moon and beyond.

The Artemis I mission is a test of the entire system prior to sending astronauts around the moon in early 2024. It will be followed by a moon landing in the middle of the decade.

“Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to build a long-term human presence at the Moon for decades to come,” according to NASA.


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Ellen Bullock