NASA's Orion Capsule Makes Crazy-Fast Return From Moon

Capsule hit atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 11, 2022 12:00 PM CST
NASA's Orion Capsule Makes Crazy-Fast Return From Moon
This image provided by NASA shows the Orion spacecraft approaching Earth on Sunday as it neared the end of its three-week test flight to the moon.   (NASA via AP)

NASA's Orion capsule made a blisteringly fast return from the moon Sunday, parachuting into the Pacific off Mexico to conclude a 25-day test flight around the moon that should clear the way for astronauts on the next lunar flyby. The incoming capsule hit the atmosphere at Mach 32, or 32 times the speed of sound, and endured reentry temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit before splashing down west of Baja California near Guadalupe Island. A Navy ship quickly moved in to recover the spacecraft and its silent occupants—three test dummies rigged with vibration sensors and radiation monitors, reports the AP.

Orion rocketed to the moon from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 16 and spent nearly a week in a wide, swooping lunar orbit before heading home. NASA needed a successful splashdown to stay on track for the next Orion flight around the moon, currently targeted for 2024. Four astronauts will make the trip. That will be followed by a two-person lunar landing as early as 2025. Astronauts last landed on the moon 50 years ago Sunday. After touching down on Dec. 11, 1972—exactly 50 years ago—Apollo 17's Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the lunar surface, the longest stay of the Apollo era. They were the last of the 12 moonwalkers.

(More Orion stories.)

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