NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft has made it back to the mainland.
Orion arrived at San Diego Naval Base on Tuesday (December 13) aboard the USS Portland, the US Navy salvage ship that fished the capsule out of the Pacific Ocean on Sunday (December 11) following its successful splashdown.
The spacecraft will offload from Portland on Wednesday (December 14) and then begin an overland tour to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, KSC officials said said Tuesday via Twitter (opens in new tab).
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This will be a homecoming for Orion, who took off from KSC on Nov 16 on a Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and launched the Artemis 1 unmanned mission.
All went well on the shakeout cruise; The SLS sent Orion on its way to the moon as planned, and the capsule ticked off all the desired milestones in space.
Orion arrived in lunar orbit on November 25, launched December 1, and headed for Earth on December 5 by performing a long engine burn during a close lunar flyby. The spacecraft returned to its home planet on Sunday, padding gently under parachutes about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
Once Orion arrives at the KSC, Artemis 1 team members will go through it thoroughly, assessing how the spacecraft and its many subsystems fared in space and on the harrowing return journey through Earth’s atmosphere.
The technicians will also remove some hardware from the capsule for processing and reuse on Artemis 2, the next mission in NASA’s Artemis program to explore the moon.
Artemis 2 is scheduled to launch astronauts around the moon in 2024. If all goes well with that flight, a year or two later, Artemis 3 will aim to land near the moon’s south pole, using a SpaceX spacecraft as the lander.
NASA wants to set up a research base in the south polar region, which is believed to host a lot of water ice. The agency also plans to build a small space station in lunar orbit called Gateway, which will serve as a launch pad for missions to the surface, both crewed and uncrewed.
The first components of Gateway are scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in late 2024.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).