NASA’s Orion spacecraft has returned to Earth. The unmanned capsule landed safely off Mexico’s Baja California in the Pacific Ocean around 12:40 p.m. ET Sunday, marking the end of the landmark Artemis I mission.
The capsule reached speeds of around 24,500 miles per hour on its return to Earth, while its heat shield endured searing temperatures of around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Orion traveled a total of 2.2 million kilometers through space in 25.5 days.
Upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the Orion capsule successfully performed a jump-entry maneuver in which Orion dipped into Earth’s upper atmosphere and was lifted out before re-entering. The move is designed to help the spacecraft land at the designated splashdown site and is a first for a spacecraft designed to carry people.
Once it reached about 24,000 feet above the ground, the capsule began deploying its parachutes to help it slow down as it descended into the Pacific Ocean. The US Navy began recovering the spacecraft shortly after it splashed down, but it will take several hours.
Now that Orion is back on the ground, NASA will begin collecting data from the sensor-equipped mannequins on board in preparation for future missions involving humans. NASA hopes to return humans to the moon during a second Artemis mission planned for 2024.
“From launching the world’s most powerful rocket to the extraordinary journey around the moon and back to Earth, this flight test is a major advance in the Artemis generation of lunar exploration,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Today is a great win for NASA, the United States, our international partners, and all of humanity.”
Update, 2:18 PM ET: Updated to add a statement from Bill Nelson.