NASA’s Orion spacecraft has returned to Earth. The uncrewed capsule crash-landed safely into the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja California coast around 12:40 a.m. ET on Sunday, marking the end of the historic Artemis I mission.
After traveling 1.4 million miles through space, the capsule plummeted upright without any significant problems. It reached speeds of about 24,500 mph when it returned to Earth, while its heat shield maintained scorching temperatures of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
When it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, the Orion capsule successfully performed a skip maneuver, where Orion dived into Earth’s upper atmosphere and lifted out before re-entering. The move should help land the spacecraft at its designated landing site and is a first for a spacecraft designed to carry humans.
Once it was about 24,000 feet above the ground, the capsule began deploying its parachutes to help slow it down as it descended into the Pacific Ocean. The US Navy began recovering the spacecraft shortly after landing, but it will take several hours.
With Orion back on the ground, NASA will begin capturing data from the sensor-equipped mannequins on board so it can prepare for future missions involving humans. NASA hopes to get humans back on the moon on a second Artemis mission scheduled for 2024.
“A new day has dawned,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during an interview after landing. “An Artemis generation takes us there.”