NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on its way back to Earth after successfully leaving lunar orbit as part of a 25-day mission.
The uncrewed Artemis I voyage is the first in a series of flights aimed at returning humans to the moon by 2025.
It has been successful so far, but a vital test still lies ahead as engineers anxiously wait to see if the capsule’s heat shield holds up on re-entry.
Orion will have to withstand temperatures of 5,000F (2,760C) as it travels at speeds of 24,500 mph before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.
Coming home: NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on its way back to Earth after successfully leaving lunar orbit as part of a 25-day mission
The uncrewed Artemis I voyage is the first in a series of flights aimed at returning humans to the moon by 2025
HOW TO FOLLOW ORION’S JOURNEY TO THE MOON AND BACK
Space fans can track the Artemis I mission’s progress using an interactive tool which lets them see where Orion is.
The Artemis Real-time Orbit Website (AROW) is providing the public with imagery, data and all the latest news, while also letting people track the spacecraft’s distance from the Earth, distance from the moon, mission duration, and more.
NASA said that while AROW was developed for the upcoming Artemis missions, it may use the same technology to offer visualisations of other space missions in the future.
The AROW website can be viewed here.
It is vital because next time around, on Artemis II, people will be on board and they will have to endure returning at speeds 32 times faster than the speed of sound – matching the fastest a human has ever travelled.
Yesterday Orion successfully completed a lunar departure burn to begin heading home after successful moon orbits.
The burn began at 16:54 ET (21:54 GMT) and lasted just under two minutes.
‘Orion has had a successful and nominal, 1 minute and 45 second, distant retrograde orbit departure burn,’ NASA said during a broadcast of the manoeuvre.
The spacecraft had arrived at the moon on November 21 after travelling some 230,000 miles (370,000km) in five days.
The capsule zoomed over the landing sites of Apollo 11, 12 and 14 as it came within 80 miles (130km) of the lunar surface.
It flew farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever done – around 40,000 miles (64,000km) beyond the far side of the moon.
Orion will also stay in space the longest without docking to a space station, and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
If the mission is successful, the uncrewed Artemis I will be followed by a human trip around the moon in 2024 and could lead to the first woman and first person of colour following in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps the year after.
The plan is to return human boots to the moon on Artemis III in 2025 and ultimately build a permanent lunar outpost with a view to exploring deeper into the cosmos so people can travel to Mars.
It would be the first time people have stepped on the moon since 1972.
Artemis I blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 01:47 ET (06:47 GMT) on November 16.
Splashdown: Orion will have to withstand temperatures of 5,000F (2,760C) as it travels at speeds of 24,500 mph before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11
Artemis I is designed to show that the SLS rocket and Orion capsule are ready to carry astronauts for Artemis II, and ultimately the Artemis III mission to return humans to the moon
Named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, Artemis signifies the modern incarnation of the US space agency’s Apollo programme, which sent astronauts to the moon for the first time.
This mission has no humans on board, but as long as everything goes smoothly and the Orion capsule splashes down to Earth as planned, then the hope is that a four-person crew can make a trip around the moon in two years’ time.
Instead of humans, a trio of human-sized test dummies are standing in for the crew in the Orion capsule, their bodies swarming with sensors to measure radiation and vibration.
In the commander’s seat is Commander Moonikin Campos — a tribute to electrical engineer Arturo Campos, who played a key role in getting the troubled Apollo 13 mission safely back to Earth in 1970.
Clad in a new Orion Crew Survival System spacesuit, the mannequin is providing NASA scientists with important data on what humans experience during a trip to the moon.
Two other mannequins named Helga and Zohar are sitting in the Orion’s passenger seats. They reflect the US space agency’s determination that a manned flight to the moon will soon include a woman.
The dummies have torsos made of materials that mimic a woman’s softer tissue, organs and bones, and are fitted with some 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors to measure the amount of radiation exposure they encounter during the mission.
One is wearing a radiation protection vest and the other isn’t.
Artemis I is designed to show that the SLS rocket and Orion capsule are ready to carry astronauts for Artemis II, and ultimately the Artemis III mission to return humans to the moon.
NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon in 2025 as part of the Artemis mission
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.
NASA has chosen her to personify its path back to the moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2025 – including the first woman and the next man.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars.
Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the moon and beyond.
During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars. This graphic explains the various stages of the mission
Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars.
The will take crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with humans aboard.
Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging crew and cargo mission needs in deep space.
Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.
The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.