NASA’s Orion capsule barreled through Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific ocean after making an uncrewed voyage around the moon, winding up the inaugural mission of the U.S. agency’s new Artemis lunar program 50 years to the day after Apollo’s final moon landing.
The gumdrop-shaped Orion capsule, carrying a simulated crew of three mannequins wired with sensors, plunked down in the ocean at 9:40 a.m. PST (1740 GMT) off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, demonstrating a high-stakes homecoming before NASA flies its first crew of Artemis astronauts around the moon in the next few years.
“This was a challenging mission, and this is what mission success looks like,” NASA’s Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin told reporters after splashdown, adding that his team didn’t immediately notice any issues with Orion’s return from space.
A U.S. military helicopter and a group of fast boats approached the capsule after splashdown for about five hours of inspections before Orion is hoisted aboard a U.S. Naval vessel for a trip to San Diego, California.
The splashdown capped a 25-day mission less than a week after passing about 79 miles (127 km) above the moon in a lunar fly-by, and came about two weeks after reaching its farthest point in space, nearly 270,000 miles (434,500 km) from Earth.
Roughly 30 minutes before splashing down, the capsule committed to a fiery, 20-minute plunge into Earth’s atmosphere when it shedded its service module in space, exposing a heatshield that reached peak temperatures of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) during its blazing-fast descent.