After flying to the Moon and back, NASA’s spacecraft should finally finish its long journey by the end of 2022.
NASA officials said in an update late Thursday (Dec. 21) that the Orion spacecraft is on a truck bound for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in coastal Florida after touchdown in the Pacific Ocean Dec. 11 to wrap up Artemis 1. The spacecraft orbited the moon before collapse, and it has been preparing for its cross-country voyage to Florida since arriving in the Port of San Diego on Dec. 13.
“Once at Kennedy,” NASA officials wrote, “technicians will open the hatch and unload several payloads…as part of service removals.” (Opens in a new tab). “In addition to removing payloads, Orion’s heat shield and other elements will be removed for analysis, and residual hazards will be offloaded.”
Related: The 10 greatest photos from NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission
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Before boarding the truck, engineers inspected the Orion’s windows and put in hard caps to protect the glass from the long road trip. Team members also deflated five airbags on top of the Orion, which were available in case the spacecraft broke upside down in the Pacific Ocean.
Aside from a biological experiment removed from Orion shortly after it arrived at port, several payloads remain on the spacecraft. These stranger things include three mannequins, a Snoopy plush doll, Shaun the Sheep, Lego figurines and a space version of Amazon’s Alexa, among others.
NASA is expected to name the Artemis 2 crew in early 2023, with the Canadian Space Agency making a parallel announcement of its own astronaut for the mission. Artemis 2 will orbit the Moon no later than 2024 to test life support systems on Orion. The first lander mission, Artemis 3, is expected to track astronauts back to the moon in 2025 or so.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (Opens in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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