NASA’s Orion spacecraft has returned to Earth. The uncrewed capsule crash-landed safely into the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja California coast around 12:40 a.m. ET on Sunday, marking the end of the historic Artemis I mission.
The capsule reached speeds of about 24,500 mph when it returned to Earth, while its heat shield maintained scorching temperatures of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Orion traveled a total of 2.4 million miles through space in 25.5 days.
When it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, the Orion capsule performed successfully skip an entry maneuver, where Orion dived into Earth’s upper atmosphere and got out before re-entering. The move should help land the spacecraft at its designated landing site and is a first for a spacecraft designed to carry humans.
Once it was about 24,000 feet above the ground, the capsule began deploying its parachutes to help slow it down as it descended into the Pacific Ocean. The US Navy began recovering the spacecraft shortly after landing, but it will take several hours.
Now that Orion is back on the ground, NASA will begin capturing data from the sensor-equipped mannequins on board so it can prepare for future missions involving humans. NASA hopes to get humans back on the moon on a second Artemis mission scheduled for 2024.
“From the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket to the exceptional journey around the Moon and back to Earth, this flight test is a major step forward in the Artemis generation of lunar exploration,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Today is a huge victory 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.