NASA’s Orion capsule ready for splashdown on Earth after the lunar mission

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is returning to Earth after a 25-day trip around the moon.

The unmanned capsule, designed to carry astronauts, is scheduled to land in the Pacific Ocean near Guadalupe Island at 17:40 GMT on December 11.

If successful, the craft will carry humans around the moon on its next mission, scheduled for 2024.

The splashdown is the last obstacle facing Orion in what has been a successful demonstration mission thus far.

The rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft is launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Nasa/Joel Kowsky)

The capsule exploded from Earth Nov. 16 on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket as part of the Artemis-1 mission, ushering in a new era of lunar exploration that could see humans return to the moon.

Nine days later, he made history by traveling 270,000 miles beyond Earth, the farthest distance ever made by a spacecraft designed to carry humans.

By the time it crashes, Orion will have traveled more than 1.4 million miles.

There may be no humans on this mission, but returning from the long-haul trip are woolly space travelers Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep, along with three mannequin astronauts – nicknamed Commander Moonikin Campos, Helga and Zohar.

Speaking of the popular Aardman character, David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency (ESA), described Shaun’s mission as “one small step for a human being, but one giant leap for a lamb”.

Orion and its toy passengers will face a bumpy return journey as the spacecraft hurtles towards Earth at approximately 25,000 miles per hour, with outside temperatures approaching 3,000 degrees Celsius.

As it enters Earth’s atmosphere, Orion’s speed will slow to approximately 325 mph, before it deploys its 11 parachutes to further slow to a splashdown speed of 20 mph or less.

Recovery crews on a waiting vessel off the California coast will then haul the capsule and its passengers aboard.

While the Artemis-1 mission focused on test systems, the Artemis II test flight will be NASA’s first manned mission to fly around the moon.

If successful, Artemis II will pave the way for the first woman and next man to land on the moon as part of Artemis III.

The last manned mission to the moon was Apollo 17 in December 1972.

The Artemis missions are part of NASA’s long-term plans to build a space station – called the Lunar Gateway – where astronauts will be able to live and work.

The construction of the Lunar Gateway will include contributions from scientists and engineers in the UK, including Thales Alenia Space UK and Imperial College London, with support from the UK Space Agency.

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