by Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA’s Artemis I uncrewed Orion spacecraft is set to splash down on earth on Sunday in the Pacific Ocean, just about 56 nautical miles off the coast of San Diego. 

According to NASA, the spacecraft made its second and final close approach to the moon On Dec. 5, passing 80.6 miles above the lunar surface. It is now set to splash down in San Diego on Sunday, Dec.11. 

“Orion is heading home! Today the team achieved another momentous accomplishment, flying Orion just 80 miles from the surface of the Moon. The lunar flyby enabled the spacecraft to harness the Moon’s gravity and slingshot it back toward Earth for splashdown,” said Administrator Bill Nelson. “When Orion re-enters Earth’s atmosphere in just a few days, it will come back hotter and faster than ever before – the ultimate test before we put astronauts on board. Next up, re-entry!” 

The spacecraft’s first flight atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will pave the way for future crewed missions and enable future missions. According to NASA, Orion will enter the Earth’s atmosphere traveling at 25,000 miles per hour, will slow to 300 mph, then parachutes will deploy to slow the spacecraft to approximately 20 mph before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, where it will be recovered by a Navy Amphibious ship. 

“Last week, we completed our final rehearsal with the USS Portland, which will be our recovery ship for Artemis I,” said Melissa Jones, landing and recovery director, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “We had a great three days working with them to refine our procedures and integrate our teams so we can meet the objectives of recovering the Orion spacecraft.”

The spacecraft, which blasted off Nov. 16 on NASA’s Space Launch System is designed to carry four astronauts on missions of up to 21 days to the moon. The Artemis I mission is a test of the entire system.

NASA hopes to send astronauts around the moon in early 2024. It will be followed by a moon landing in the middle of the decade.

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