While Florida, Texas, and Pasadena, California, are often the epicenter of the NASA space world here on Earth, San Diego will have its moment in the moonlight when the space shuttle Orion completes its final leg of the Artemis I Mission on Sunday.
Orion – the capsule that will one day transport America’s first woman and a person of color to the surface of the Moon, and could eventually take humans to Mars – made its final orbit around the moon on Monday and began its journey towards the Pacific. The ocean
The exact location of the splashdown has not yet been determined. But, if all goes to plan, Orion will sink into the sea about 50 miles off the coast of the United States of America on Sunday afternoon.
The visual guide below outlines each phase of the Artemis I Mission. Click on phase three to see what’s in store for Orion when it returns to Earth on Sunday. Learn more here.
A recovery team made up of NASA’s Exploration Earth Systems (EGS) engineers and technicians and the Navy’s USS Portland crew has been in San Diego since Thanksgiving to play their part in the expected return of the destination.
The team trained for three days on the coast to float in a mock box and load it onto a Naval Base San Diego-homeported ship, which was selected as an amphibious ship with both a flight deck and what is known as the lead to the well. the ocean
“The mission we are doing is a kind of amphibian in nature; it’s just…normally they’d recover marine vehicles or hovercraft, but they were doing that by only picking up the orbital,” said USS Portland Capt. John Ryan.
A video of the practice show shows more than a dozen Navy sailors boarding several mock Orion ships at sea. After a series of rigging and grappling hooks on the vessels, a line that pulls Orion in yellow cradles inside a well-decorated ship. The water is then released into the sea and Orion is carried safely to shore.
It sounds easy in theory, but any miscalculation, any bump could be a loss for the Orion capsule.
When it comes time to receive the real Orion, the entire process will take about six hours, enough time to complete a series of tests and critical data collection for future missions. For example, the heat shield that will prevent Orion, and eventually the astronauts, burning up when it breaks through the Earth’s atmosphere at a temperature of 5,000 degrees, must undergo about an hour and a half of image data collection before the team can pull the recovery. it USS Portland all
“This mission is all about collecting data so the recovery time will be about six hours,” said NASA Escape and Recovery Coordinator Melissa Jones. “We’re taking a lot of that data for flight testing purposes; we’ll be very careful with the capsule. We’re ready and honored to bring the integrated team home to Orion on the last leg of its journey.”
If Orion was grounded, the recovery team would only have about two hours to get their astronauts to shore for a medical evaluation.
“All is well now we are able to really learn how to move forward with the crew missions,” added Jones.
While the recovery process has been solidified, one big factor is literally left up in the air – how exactly will Orion shed? That will all be up to Jones and Director Judd Frieling.
The best place to “meet-me site,” as the sailors call it, is the place where the recovery team is already training, a place within the US-Navy’s continental naval training area called “San Diego site 3.” However, whether a site is usable depends on several weather factors, including wind speeds and wave patterns. If site 3 is not an option, there are several alternative sites further from the San Diego coast. And, if none of those are needed, the Orion and the USS Portland could end up as far north as San Clemente Island, Frieling said.
Before the team can recover to work, Orion must first go through the turbulence to return to Earth. Its main purpose is to avoid burning up when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere…no easy feat when you’re 40,000 feet above the Earth and traveling at a speed of about 24,500 mph. Meanwhile, the flight team on the ground will lose signal with Orion due to a biting nail for five and a half minutes.
After it is about 200,000 feet above Earth, it will make a U-turn and head for space. “Wait… for space?” you ask What will appear to be a mistake is that NASA is calling its new technique “skip-in”, which will essentially skid Orion like a rock through the Earth’s atmosphere. When Orion’s hinges head back to Earth again, the capsule will be on a more direct route to a port closer to shore — the closest in NASA history — thus protecting future astronauts who need to get back to Earth quickly for post-space-trip evaluation.
With Orion pulled back inside the Earth’s sphere, the capsule will continue to slow down with the help of air friction. By the time the capsule reaches 150,000 feet, it will travel at 8,500 mph; at 100,000 feet, 2,400 mph; and at 50K feet, slow to just 528 mph. Parachutes are released to slow Orion down to a fast 20 mph, which is the speed Orion will be traveling when it plops into the Pacific Ocean.
Diana is NASA’s moon launch program, which aims to return astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2025.
The recovery team takes over from there and that’s when Navy Boatsmate 2nd Class Matthew Foster’s job begins. As coxswain, the ship that tows the Orion maneuvers to the USS Portland. He took the Navy in conjunction with the Department of Defense and NASA to get this part of the mission right — and he didn’t want to screw it up.
“It’s almost a once in a lifetime thing like that that’s going to happen. Nobody ever really takes a chance like that,” Foster said, adding that he thought, “I’m not messing around; it’s just what I’m set to do.”
He knows his role is a small part of a program that could eventually take humanity into deep space.
The Artemis I mission is the first phase of NASA’s moon landing program. The next phase of the mission will have the first humans aboard NASA spacecraft. And, in Phase 3, he aims them to land on the moon.
“When we’re talking about sustaining exploration on the surface of the moon and going up to Mars, Artemis 1 is that step,” James Free, a NASA Systems Development associate, said in August. “The next step beyond this is Diana II, we’re going to put a crew on II. Artemis III, we’re on the precipice of that as well where we’re going to land the first woman and the first person of color. This is the Artemis program.”
Even more ambitious are the Artemis IV goals, according to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson: taking a space trip from the Moon to Mars.
NASA eventually hopes to establish a moon base and send astronauts to Mars by the late 2030s or early 2040s. And, as humanity looks toward the next giant leap, we can look back knowing that San Diego was a small step toward getting them there.
NASA will provide live coverage of Orion’s reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere and splash off the coast of San Diego starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11.
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