NASA's Orion capsule makes safe return to Earth after successful moon mission

ITV News Journalist Fred Dimbleby reports on the near-perfect re-entry of the capsule which could clear the way for a possible lunar landing of astronauts by 2025

NASA's Orion spacecraft has successfully splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after a near-26-day mission to orbit the Moon.

The uncrewed Orion capsule, which is designed to carry astronauts, splashed down on Sunday after a fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

The capsule hit the atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound, and endured re-entry temperatures of 2,760 degrees Celsius before splashing down west of Mexico’s Baja California near Guadalupe Island.

A Navy ship quickly moved in to recover the spacecraft and the three test dummies rigged with vibration sensors and radiation monitors.

“I’m overwhelmed,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said from Mission Control in Houston. “This is an extraordinary day... It’s historic because we are now going back into space - deep space - with a new generation.”

NASA needed a successful splashdown to stay on track for the next Orion flight around the moon, currently targeted for 2024.

Four astronauts are scheduled to make the trip, which will be followed by a two-person lunar landing as early as 2025.

The Orion spacecraft approaching Earth as it neared the end of its three-week test flight to the moon. Credit: NASA via AP

Astronauts last landed on the moon 50 years ago on Sunday.

After touching down on December 11, 1972, Apollo 17′s Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the lunar surface, the longest stay of the Apollo era.

The Orion capsule blasted off from Earth on November 16 on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket as part of the Artemis-1 mission, ushering in a new era of lunar exploration that could see humans return to the moon.

Nine days later, it made history by travelling 270,000 miles beyond the Earth – the furthest any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone.

While no one was on the $4 billion test flight, NASA managers were thrilled to pull off the dress rehearsal, especially after so many years of flight delays.

Fuel leaks and hurricanes caused additional postponements in late summer and autumn.

While the Artemis-1 mission has been all about testing systems, the Artemis II flight test will be NASA’s first mission with astronauts who will fly around the moon.

If successful, Artemis II will pave the way to land the first woman and next man on the moon as part of Artemis III.

The Artemis missions are part of NASA’s long-term plans to build a space station – called Lunar Gateway – where astronauts will be able to live and work.

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