Nasa's Orion space capsule splashes down after record-breaking Moon mission

The space capsule travelled more than 2.2 million kilometres during Artemis I journey

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Nasa’s record-breaking mission Orion spacecraft is back on Earth after splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

The space capsule landed to the west of Mexico’s Baja California state at 9.40am Pacific time (9.40pm UAE).

Nasa said it travelled more than 1.4 million miles (2.2 million kilometres) on a path around the Moon, before returning safely to Earth.

The $4.1 billion Nasa Artemis 1 mission will pave the way for the US space agency to send astronauts to the Moon’s surface.

The Orion landing is the final milestone of the mission that began with a successful lift-off of Nasa’s Space Launch System rocket on November 16 from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Nasa then tested Orion in the harsh environment of deep space over 25 days.

“Orion has returned from the Moon and is safely back on planet Earth,” said Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin.

“With splashdown we have successfully operated Orion in the deep space environment, where it exceeded our expectations, and demonstrated that Orion can withstand the extreme conditions of returning through Earth’s atmosphere from lunar velocities.”

Orion performed two lunar fly-bys, coming within 130km of the lunar surface.

It travelled more than 430,000km from Earth at its furthest distance — more than 1,000 times further than where the International Space Station orbits Earth.

Nasa's unmanned Orion spaceship comes in for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California, Mexico, on December 11. AFP

During re-entry, Orion endured temperatures about half as hot as the surface of the Sun at about 2,760 degrees Celsius.

It slowed from nearly 40,000 kilometres per hour to about 30kph in 20 minutes for its parachute-assisted splashdown.

During the flight test, Orion stayed in space longer than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has done without docking to a space station.

It surpassed the record for distance travelled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans, previously set during Apollo 13.

“The splashdown of the Orion spacecraft — which occurred 50 years to the day of the Apollo 17 Moon landing — is the crowning achievement of Artemis I,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.

“From the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket to the exceptional journey around the Moon and back to Earth, this flight test is a major step forward in the Artemis Generation of lunar exploration.

“Today is a huge win for Nasa, the US, our international partners and all of humanity.”

Updated: December 12, 2022, 5:51 AM