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To the Moon and Back: Artemis I Returns – Lesson

NASA’s Artemis I moon trip ended with a Pacific Ocean landing for the Orion space capsule.

The almost 26-day Artemis I mission ended on Sunday at 12:40 p.m. Eastern Time. The Orion space capsule splashed down gently in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Baja, California. The USS Portland, a San Antonio-class transport dock ship with the US Navy, was on standby for the recovery. After the 1.3 million-mile trip, the Orion capsule returned to Earth using a new atmosphere-entry technique.

Artemis I and the Skip Entry Return

GettyImages-1448426498 Artemis I

Artemis I (Pool photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As NASA explained before re-entry, “the crew module will perform a skip entry technique, dipping into the upper parts of Earth’s atmosphere and using that atmosphere, along with the lift of the capsule, to skip back out of the atmosphere, then reenter for final descent under parachutes and splash down.” The new skip-entry method was designed to help reduce the force of gravity during re-entry for any humans on future missions. Artemis I was unmanned, but the method was successful, and the splashdown happened 50 years to the day after the Apollo 17 moon landing.

On top of making it safer for human crews, the skip entry lets a spacecraft be much more precise in hitting the planned landing spot. This is important, because sometimes a returning module isn’t lined up right with where it needs to land when it first hits the atmosphere.

A Bright Future for the Artemis Missions

The Artemis I mission was historic. It took a spacecraft that could be manned deeper into space than any flight before. It also took a low flyby about 60 miles above the moon’s surface. One of the propulsion stages that separated from the Orion module along the way – called the Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) – deployed ten small satellites. The four cubic inch Cubesats, as they’re called, will take their own tracks to the moon and perform various experiments and demonstrations. The Cubesats will make more in-depth studies of the moon, and some might be diverted to gather more data for future deep space exploration by NASA.

In the coming months, NASA analysts will have their hands full assessing the many photos of the moon’s surface and looking back at Earth from space. The next Artemis Mission will carry a human crew for one more moon orbiting trip. Reports are that NASA will announce the four Artemis II crew members in six months. The launch of Artemis II is planned for some time in 2024. Finally, Artemis III is expected to return to the moon in 2025 for an actual landing. Once again, the US leads in space exploration, and Americans can look with pride at this achievement.