Artemis I Returns From the Moon
The Orion capsule after completing splashdown. (Source: NASA)
Humans are one step closer to returning to the moon!
December 11th saw the splashdown of the unmanned Artemis I capsule, which just completed its orbital test flight around the moon. The mission was the first step in eventually sending a crewed mission to the lunar surface, the first since 1972. Artemis II is currently scheduled for 2024 and will have a manned capsule orbit the moon and return to Earth. In 2025, Artemis III will land two astronauts on the surface of the moon, with the successive missions intended to establish a permanent basecamp on our lunar neighbor.
The mission’s purpose was essentially a stress test of the Orion capsule, to assess the limits of the craft without endangering a crew. Most importantly is the capsule’s heat shield, which has to sustain temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule performed admirably and will now undergo months of testing to its shield and other systems to spot any possible roadblocks. But as it stands now, Artemis I is an unambiguous success.
The program is a joint effort between NASA and the Canadian, Japanese, and European space agencies, along with a number of private outlets, including SpaceX. While Artemis I was a great success, the program faces many challenges ahead, already behind schedule and with a price tag in the billions. Artemis’ timetable for a return to the moon within the next three years is an ambitious one, but if this mission is any indicator, the space agencies of the world may just pull it off.