Cape Canaveral, Fla. ( Associated Press) – NASA’s Orion space capsule returned from the moon Sunday, parachuting into the Pacific off the coast of Mexico to conclude a test flight that will pave the way for astronauts on the next lunar flyby.
The capsule reentered the atmosphere at Mach 32, which is equivalent to 32 times the speed of sound, and endured re-entry temperatures of 5,000 °F (2,760 °C) before splashing down west of Baja California near the island . Guadeloupe. A Navy ship moved quickly to retrieve the ship and its silent occupants: three test dummies equipped with vibration sensors and radiation monitors.
NASA described the descent and splashdown as spectacular and nearly perfect.
“I’m in awe,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told Mission Control in Houston. “It’s an extraordinary day. It’s historic because now we’re going back into space – deep space – with a new generation.”
A successful splashdown was needed for NASA to proceed with Orion’s next flight around the Moon, scheduled for 2024. Four astronauts will travel. This will be followed by a two-person moon landing in 2025.
The last time astronauts landed on the moon was 50 years ago on Sunday.
After landing on the ground on December 11, 1972, Apollo 17’s Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the canyon of Taurus Lyttrow, the longest of the Apollo era. He was the last of the 12 Moon Walkers.
Since then Orion was the first capsule to visit the Moon, launching on November 16 from Kennedy Space Center on NASA’s new Lunar megarocket. It was the first flight of NASA’s new Artemis lunar program, named after the twin sister of Apollo, a character from mythology.
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