PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The naval ship U.S.S Portland, named after a notable Oregon city, helped NASA recover an unmanned spacecraft from the Pacific Ocean after it splashed back to Earth Sunday near Baja, Calif. at 9:40 a.m.
The Artemis I test flight launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 16, and spent the past 25-and-a-half days documenting the harsh environments of deep space for future manned missions. The exploration precedes NASA’s Artemis II mission, which is scheduled to send the first woman and first person of color to the moon in 2024.
“We’re going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation of explorers: the Artemis Generation,” NASA said. “While maintaining American leadership in exploration, we will build a global alliance and explore deep space for the benefit of all.”
During the test flight, Orion traveled more than 1.4 million miles around the Moon, breaking Apollo 13’s record for the farthest distance traveled by any spacecraft designed to carry humans. Orion also stayed in space longer than any other astronaut-housing ship without the use of a space station.
The Artemis I mission performed two lunar flybys during the mission, soaring within 80 miles of the moon’s surface before returning to Earth. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson called the expedition a “huge win” for NASA, the U.S. and all of humanity.
“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,” Nelson said. “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. It wouldn’t be possible without the incredible NASA team. For years, thousands of individuals have poured themselves into this mission, which is inspiring the world to work together to reach untouched cosmic shores.”
At its farthest distance, Orion traveled almost 270,000 miles from Earth — more than 1,000 times farther away than the orbit of the International Space Station. The extreme distance, NASA, said, intentionally pushed the limits of the spacecraft to test conditions for astronauts ahead of the manned 2024 launch. NASA associate administrator Jim Free said the mission marks a new era of space exploration.
“This begins our path to a regular cadence of missions and a sustained human presence at the Moon for scientific discovery and to prepare for human missions to Mars,” Free said.
During re-entry, Orion withstood temperatures of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit — approximately half as hot as the surface of the sun. During the fall, Orion reached speeds of roughly 25,000 mph before slowing to about 20 mph during its parachute-assisted splashdown. Despite the extreme conditions, Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin said that Orion returned to Earth safely.
“Orion has returned from the Moon and is safely back on planet Earth,” Sarafin said. “With splashdown, we have successfully operated Orion in the deep space environment, where it exceeded our expectations and demonstrated that [it] can withstand the extreme conditions of returning through Earth’s atmosphere from lunar velocities.”