The Artemis I Orion capsule is due to land Sunday after a 25-day journey that has come within 60 miles of the moon, completing the first step of an ambitious plan to establish a long-term presence there and subsequently send a manned shuttle to Mars.
The mission, which has overcome numerous launch delays, will bring the unmanned capsule back to Earth in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego.
The capsule performed well during the nearly month-long journey, Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin said at a press conference on Thursday.
“We are on track for a fully successful mission,” said Sarafin, who told reporters the management team met daily to monitor the capsule’s progress.
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As it returns to Earth, Orion will deploy parachutes that will float it in the ocean during its final descent, Judd Frieling, a NASA flight director, said Thursday.
After Orion crashes, it will remain in the water for two hours while NASA tests the heat generated by the capsule upon its return, Frieling said.
Artemis had a rocky start with multiple failed attempts to get the rocket off the ground before the successful launch on November 16.
The first launch attempt on August 29 was canceled due to a faulty temperature sensor indicating an engine had not cooled properly when it actually was.
The second attempt was later canceled on 3 September after engineers discovered several liquid hydrogen leaks. Liquid hydrogen is one of the propellants needed to fill the rocket’s core stage.
A third attempt on September 27 was postponed after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida and gradually moved into the northeastern part of the state and the Carolinas.
In total, the Artemis Expedition comprises four missions, each of which will cost approximately $4.1 billion. The project will cost up to $93 billion by 2025, according to an audit by NASA’s Office of the Inspector General.
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If Artemis I is successful, Artemis II should send four astronauts into space in 2024 for a lunar flyby before returning to Earth.
Artemis III plans to send four astronauts to the moon in 2025, including the first woman and first black person, while Artemis IV plans to be the second moon landing in 2027.
In addition to creating a permanent base camp on the moon, the program aims to be the gateway for possible manned missions to Mars.
Artemis I Orion capsule ready for splashdown after NASA’s near-moon mission originally appeared on abcnews.go.com