Today’s Solutions: December 10, 2023

NASA’s new multibillion-dollar spacecraft returned from the moon this past weekend, bringing the agency closer to returning astronauts to the moon by 2025.

The Artemis program completed phase one when the Orion capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California at 9:40 in the morning, Pacific Time. No human-rated spacecraft has circled the moon in 25 and a half days like Artemis 1.

A perfect “textbook entry”

Associate administrator for NASA, Robert D. Cabana, said the spacecraft performed “flawlessly,” with the exception of a few minor issues.

Before re-entry, the capsule “skip entry” to slow down. On Sunday’s NASA live webcast, spokesperson Rob Navias said this descent will offer data for future crewed missions’ splashdown sites.

NASA described it as a perfect “textbook entry.”

“Watching it from the deck as an observer, we saw those three full main parachutes pop out,” NASA spokesperson Derrol Nail said from the USS Portland several miles from the splashdown. “It was a beautiful sight, probably just about several thousand feet in the sky, and we watched that slow descent as the Orion crew module made its way down to the Pacific Ocean.”

Before approaching the capsule, the navy boat waited two hours for the ammonia to vent. Nail claimed the crew module’s cooling system, which is essential for future crewed flights, uses ammonia, which can kill humans.

Navias said the drop tested the spacecraft’s heat shield against the “searing heat of entry” surrounding Orion, which reached 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, half as hot as the sun’s surface temperature.

Making progress toward returning humans to the moon

The splashdown leaves NASA’s Artemis project on track to land the first woman and person of color on the moon by 2025. Cabana said on Sunday that this test flight is needed to establish the vehicle can fly with a crew. “That’s the next step and I can’t wait,” he added.

However, as observed in the months preceding the capsule launch, delays are not out of the question. After an engine failure, a liquid hydrogen leak, and a hurricane, NASA delayed the Artemis 1 mission for months, and finally launched on the 16th of November.

Honoring Apollo with Artemis’ new legacy

The lunar program, named after Apollo’s twin sister, wants to revive NASA’s moon-landing grandeur from 50 years ago. In July 1969, 600 million people saw Neil Armstrong become the first human to walk on the moon.

“It seems fitting that we would honor Apollo with the new legacy of the Artemis generation and this mission today,” Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate deputy associate administrator Catherine Koerner said Sunday.

In 2024, Artemis will send the first crewed capsule around the moon without landing. NASA astronaut Shannon Walker anticipates that NASA will announce the crew for this phase in six months.

NASA plans to put astronauts on the moon in phase three by 2025 using the Orion capsule and SpaceX human landing technology. The contract with Elon Musk’s company is worth approximately $2.9 billion.

NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin, claimed each of its first three missions will cost over $4 billion, not including development expenditures. NASA forecasts that the Artemis missions will cost $93 billion by the end of fiscal 2025.

Cabana, NASA’s associate administrator, said the mission has a bigger purpose than Apollo’s.

“We’re paving a way to go on to not just the moon and Mars, but to establish a presence in our solar system beyond our home planet — to explore, to have those technologies in space, and to continue to learn and improve things here on planet Earth,” he said.

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