NASA’s Artemis program aims to land astronauts on the Lunar South Pole by 2025. It has been roughly half a century since humanity last set foot on the lunar surface. NASA worked with more than 1,100 companies across the United States to develop the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, designed to transport astronauts to lunar orbit. The agency also selected SpaceX to develop a lunar-optimized Starship Human Landing System (HLS) to land astronauts on the Moon’s surface. NASA has a flight plan to utilize both launch systems –Orion is designed to dock with Starship HLS in lunar orbit, and a pair of astronauts will transfer from Orion into Starship to land on the Moon. The flight plan is pictured below (Figure 2).
Before any crewed flight can happen, NASA is conducting individual flight tests of each flight system to ensure the vehicles function optimally. The Artemis I demonstration mission was completed this week, it showcased how the SLS rocket and Orion work during an uncrewed 26-day mission around the Moon. On November 16, the SLS rocket lifted off from Launch Pad-39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Orion spacecraft was deployed to orbit and used its onboard engines to propel itself towards lunar orbit.
It took Orion 5 days to reach the Moon, flying within 81-miles of its surface to conduct a maneuver that harnessed the Moon’s gravity to orbit around the moon. By day 11th of the mission. Orion was 268,563 miles away from Earth as it was flying in a distant retrograde orbit. This orbit is a stable trajectory above the lunar surface in which the spacecraft flies opposite from the way the moon travels around Earth in order to conserve fuel. During its voyage, engineers at NASA’s Mission Control tested spacecraft’s systems and the onboard cameras captured magnificent close-up views of the Moon and awe-inspiring distant images of Earth from lunar orbit.
Flight Day 26. Orion is returning to Earth. 20,000 miles / 32,000 km from Earth. Traveling at 9,600 mph / 15,500 kmh and accelerating. pic.twitter.com/EWCKXkChjg— Orion Spacecraft (@NASA_Orion) December 11, 2022
This week, NASA completed the Artemis I mission on December 11. After 26 days, Orion returned to Earth at 12:40 p.m. ET. It withstood temperatures over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it crossed the atmosphere at approximately 25,000 miles per hour, then it performed a parachute-assisted landing in the ocean. "Splashdown! From Tranquility Base to Taurus-Littrow to the tranquil waters of the Pacific, the latest chapter of NASA's journey to the moon comes to a close: Orion back on Earth," NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said during the agency's live broadcast of the mission. A United States Navy’s USS Portland ship recovered the spacecraft from the ocean. “This is an extraordinary day," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after splashdown. "It’s historic, because we are now going back into space - into deep space, with a new generation."
"I applaud the NASA team for their work on completing a successful Artemis I mission. We’re one step closer to returning astronauts to the moon," said United States Vice President Kamala Harris.
Splashdown.— NASA (@NASA) December 11, 2022
After traveling 1.4 million miles through space, orbiting the Moon, and collecting data that will prepare us to send astronauts on future #Artemis missions, the @NASA_Orion spacecraft is home. pic.twitter.com/ORxCtGa9v7
“The ship will soon begin its trip back to U.S. Naval Base San Diego, where engineers will remove Orion from the ship in preparation for transport back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for post-flight analysis,” said NASA representatives in a press release. “[...] Recovery personnel also spent time collecting detailed imagery of the spacecraft before beginning to pull the capsule into the USS Portland’s well deck.” The successful Artemis I mission is an important milestone towards launching astronauts to the Moon. The next mission to lunar orbit will be the Artemis II flight which will send astronauts aboard Orion sometime in 2024. By 2023, NASA hopes everything is ready to land astronauts on the lunar surface with SpaceX’s Starship HLS working alongside Orion. Ultimately, NASA aims to create a sustainable lunar presence and build a permanent science base on the Moon.
We're back after a 1.4 million mile journey around the Moon. pic.twitter.com/f3e5Ov1M2E— Orion Spacecraft (@NASA_Orion) December 11, 2022
The #Artemis I mission is uncrewed, but the @NASA_Orion spacecraft is filled with science, payloads, and…— NASA (@NASA) December 7, 2022
Easter eggs. Take a look at this image and see if you can find them all. We will reveal them all on Dec. 10. pic.twitter.com/0Zh9URda0L
All Featured Images Source: NASA
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.