NASA’s Orion spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, at 9:40 a.m. PST Sunday after a record-breaking mission, traveling more than 1.4 million miles on a path around the Moon and returning safely to Earth, completing the Artemis I flight test.
Splashdown is the final milestone of the Artemis I mission that began with a successful liftoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket Nov. 16, from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Over the course of 25.5 days, NASA tested Orion in the harsh environment of deep space before flying astronauts on Artemis II.
As Eric Berger writes at Ars Technica, this marks the end of a historic mission:
This has not happened in half a century. At times, it seemed like it might never happen again. But now, it is most definitely happening.
NASA’s progress back toward the Moon, and one day potentially Mars, has been at times lethargic. The political process that led NASA to this point in recent decades was messy and motivated by parochial pork projects. But on Sunday there could be no denying that this process has brought NASA, the United States, and dozens of other nations participating in the Artemis Program to the point where its human deep space exploration program is a very, very real thing.
It has been a long time coming.