Afghan Voice Agency(AVA)_Monitoring, The gumdrop-shaped Orion capsule, carrying a simulated crew of three mannequins wired with sensors, was due to parachute into the Pacific at 9:39 a.m. near Guadalupe Island, off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, Reuters reported.
Orion was nearing the end of its 25-day mission less than a week after passing about 127 km above the moon in a lunar fly-by and about two weeks after reaching its farthest point in space, nearly 434,500 km from Earth.
After jettisoning the service module housing its main rocket system, the capsule was expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at 39,400 kph — more than 30 times the speed of sound — for a fiery, 20-minute plunge to the ocean.
Orion blasted off on November 16 from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop NASA’s towering next-generation Space Launch System (SLS), now the world’s most powerful rocket and the biggest NASA has built since the Saturn V of the Apollo era.
By coincidence, the return to Earth of Artemis I unfolded on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 moon landing of Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt on December 11, 1972. They were the last of 12 NASA astronauts to walk on the moon during a total of six Apollo missions starting in 1969.
Re-entry marks the single most critical phase of Orion’s journey, testing whether its newly designed heat shield will withstand atmospheric friction expected to raise temperatures outside the capsule to nearly 2,760 degrees Celsius.
“It is our priority-one objective,” NASA’s Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin said at a briefing last week. “There is no arc-jet or aerothermal facility here on Earth capable of replicating hypersonic re-entry with a heat shield of this size.”
It will also test the advanced guidance and thruster systems used to steer the capsule from the moon to its proper re-entry point and through descent, maintaining the spacecraft at just the right angle to avoid burning up.
“It’s essentially like throwing a football 300 yards and hitting a penny,” Eric Coffman, Orion propulsion senior manager at Lockheed Martin Corp, which built Orion under contract with NASA, told Reuters.