NASA’s Orion capsule returns to Earth after historic Moon mission

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    NASA's test flight of the Orion capsule has ended with a successful splash-landing in the Pacific Ocean. The 1.4 million mile test flight around the Moon is the first step on the road to establishing a Moon base, and ultimately launching a mission to Mars.

    The capsule passed within 80 miles of the far side of the moon, using the moon's gravity to provide a slingshot for the 237,000-mile ride back to Earth.

    After the capsule splashed down close to Mexico's Guadalupe Island, recovery teams moved in to gather data that can be used in post-flight analysis.

    NASA had described today's return of Orion to Earth as its "priority one" objective.

    Spacecraft returning from the vicinity of the Moon will do so at incredibly high speeds – in the region of 25,000mph when they make contact with the outer fringes of the atmosphere.

    As a result, the craft require highly efficient heat shields – friction between the spacecraft's skin and even the thin air of the upper atmosphere can produce temperatures as high as 3,000ºC.

    Orion's heat shield is an all-new design, and it was essential to test it thoroughly before risking a crewed flight.

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    The Artemis I mission began with a successful liftoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on November 16.

    Over the course of the past 26 days, flight controllers have tested Orion’s capabilities in the harsh environment of deep space to prepare for flying astronauts on Artemis II.

    Artemis III is expected to be NASA's return to the moon, scheduled for launch in 2025. The last manned moon mission was Apollo 17, between December 7 and 19, 1972.

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