NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft will return to Earth Sunday (December 11) after nearly a month in space, and you can watch the homecoming live.
Artemis 1’s uncrewed Orion capsule is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California on Sunday around 12:40 p.m. EDT (1740 GMT).
You can watch live coverage of Orion’s return here on Space.com courtesy of NASA, or live via the space agency. (Opens in a new tab). Coverage will begin at 11 AM EST (1600 GMT).
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more: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission: live updates
Orion launched atop a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on November 16, kicking off the highly anticipated Artemis 1 mission.
The capsule slid into lunar orbit on November 25, and departed on December 1. home planet.
The 25.5-day Artemis 1 mission will end on Sunday, 50 years to the day to the day Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt landed on the moon. The duo departed on December 14, 1972, and no human has returned to the moon since.
If all goes according to plan, Orion will hit Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean around 12:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT) on Sunday while traveling at 25,000 mph (40,000 kph). This huge speed will generate a lot of friction. Orion’s heat shield will have to handle temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees Celsius) — about half the temperature of the sun’s surface.
The capsule will bounce off the upper atmosphere briefly and then come back down, like a rock skipping the surface of a pond. After this skip, Orion will descend through the atmosphere under parachutes, landing off the coast of Baja California at around 12:40 p.m. EDT (1740 GMT). A US Navy ship, the USS Portland, will be waiting in the vicinity to retrieve the spacecraft and bring it to a port in San Diego.
Re-entry will begin over the open Pacific Ocean, off the coast of South America, and Orion will head north from there. The remoteness of the capsule’s trajectory, combined with the timing—that is, during daylight hours—makes this re-entry a very difficult target for observers on the ground, even those close to the splash site.
“Will anyone be able to see that outside of Baja?” Artemis 1 flight director Judd Freleng said during a news conference Thursday (December 8). “There’s always a chance, but we’re pretty far from the coast there, so I doubt it—unless you’re there on a boat, 100 miles offshore or so.”
Nearby observers may get aural evidence that re-entry has begun.
“You’re more likely to hear the sonic boom as the vehicle approaches than anything else,” Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin said during a Thursday briefing.
Artemis 1 is a shakedown cruise for SLS, Orion, and associated ground systems. If all goes well on Sunday, NASA can begin preparing for Artemis 2, which will send astronauts around the moon in 2024.
Artemis 3 is scheduled to place the boots near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026. Future missions in NASA’s Artemis program will build a research base in that region, which is believed to be rich in water ice.
The agency wants this outpost to be operational by the end of 2020. NASA plans to use the knowledge gained from these lunar efforts to help get astronauts to Mars by the late 2030s or early 40s.
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Major Grand Publishing, 2018; illustration by Carl Tate), a book about the search for aliens. Follow him on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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