NASA’s Orion capsule returns from trip around the moon after completing the first Apollo successor mission

“Here it is, high above the Pacific, America’s new ticket to travel, to the moon and beyond,” was the message from mission control.

NASA’s Artemis I mission came to a dramatic end Sunday morning when an unmanned Orion capsule returned from its trip around the moon to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, ahead of a planned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the Mexico.

The arrival marked an important step in the Artemis program, an ambitious initiative to return human astronauts to the moon by 2024, part of a larger effort to foster a continued human presence and lay the groundwork for eventual human exploration of Mars.

Images NASA’s Orion spacecraft captured looking at Earth from a camera mounted on one of its solar arrays ((NASA via AP))

Orion was launched into space with its crew of test dummies Nov. 16 in the first test of NASA’s massive new Space Launch System rocket and traveled approximately 239,000 miles to the moon before beginning its journey back to Earth.

The $4 billion flight required the craft to spend about a week in orbit around the lunar surface.

In addition to advancing NASA’s successor to the famous Apollo moon landing program, the Artemis I tested a number of new technologies and maneuvers, such as a carbon fiber and titanium heat shield, which was designed to reach temperatures of 5000 degrees Fahrenheit (2800 degrees Celsius) as Orion descended to Earth.

NASA's Artemis 1 mission takes off ((Nasa/Bill Ingalls))

NASA’s Artemis 1 mission takes off ((Nasa/Bill Ingalls))

NASA mission planners also used a new “jump” maneuver during Orion’s approach.

“Although not a perfect analogy, Orion will mimic a stone skipping across a pond by plunging into Earth’s atmosphere, popping out, and then re-entering,” aerospace firm Lockheed Martin, the project’s prime contractor, said in a statement. “Performed from the crew module, this maneuver gives Orion more room to travel before crashing, allowing it to be more accurate with where it lands.”

The Artemis mission struggled to get off the ground at first.

An engine problem, a fuel leak, then Hurricane Ian delayed the launch of the Orion capsule from late August to November.

Once in heaven, there were a few more snags.

The mission carried a payload of 10 miniature satellites, four of which appeared to have suffered various failures.

This is developing news and will be updated with new information.

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