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NASA's Orion spacecraft splashed down Sunday afternoon just off California's Baja Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. The 26-day Artemis 1 test mission marked a significant step toward returning astronauts to the moon. Miles O'Brien joins Geoff Bennett to discuss the mission and what's next.
Good evening. It's good to be with you. We begin tonight in the Pacific Ocean. We're earlier today NASA's Orion spacecraft splashdown just off the Baja Peninsula, a test mission, which marks a significant step toward returning astronauts to the moon. The agency says its 26-day mission called Artemis 1 was a success.
Splashdown from Tranquility Base to Taurus Litro. To the tranquil waters of the Pacific, the latest chapter of NASA's journey to the moon comes to a close, Orion. Back on Earth.
A team recovered this space capsule which has no astronauts on board as it returned to Earth at 12:40 Eastern time this afternoon. After blasting off in mid-November using NASA's most powerful rocket ever, Orion spent a week in a sweeping lunar orbit capturing stunning images of our celestial backyard.
For more science correspondent Miles O'Brien is with us. Miles, thanks for joining us. So NASA as I understand it made some last minute adjustments for that splashdown. There were some questions as to whether the capsules heat shields can withstand atmospheric reentry. All in all, how did everything go?
You know, at the bottom of the ledger here, Geoff, this looks like it was a very successful mission. But there, you know, there's a lot of data to pour through more than a terabyte and a half has already streamed right down from space. The engineers will be poring over all this data to see how well the Orion capsule performed.
The big question, the number one question on their mind is how well did that heat shield perform? They came in faster than any other piloted rated aircraft has ever come into Earth's atmosphere before 25,000 miles an hour. And they're testing out a heat shield they have never flown with before.
The idea is they're looking outward toward a future mission where they'd be coming back from Mars even faster. So they're going to be checking that heat shield making sure there was no damage to the spacecraft and ultimately would keep astronauts safe and sound as they came back. So far it looks good.
There was a camera mounted on the spacecraft that sent back some pretty incredible pictures. Talk us through a few of them. What is this image in particular?
Well as Orion was headed toward the moon, we got a real taste kind of a throwback. On this day 50 years ago, Jeff, you wouldn't remember but I did, Apollo 17, the last Apollo mission landed on the moon, we have for the past 50 years been looking at shuttle missions and the space station never going much more than 250 miles above the planet.
And now we're back on a voyage of exploration. And I got to say those images have been fun to look at, to say the least.
So miles, here's another image this is of the craters on the moon.
Yes, you know, Orion at times got very close to the surface of the moon about 80 miles into altitude. And it has a camera on the spacecraft, which is designed as an optical navigational system to help it know where it is.
But it also gave us some stunning looks at the moon like we haven't seen for 50 years. And it is a reminder that the moon is kind of a tough neighborhood, it will not be simple landing there. And all of those pock marks, all those craters are also a reminder that we live in a tough neighborhood where we're constantly being bombarded by meteors. And we don't see that evidence so much here on Earth, because it gets covered up by tectonic activity and foliage and the oceans.
But the moon is reminder that we get bombarded. And we can go there and learn a little bit more about what that means for the evolution of life here.
Well, speaking of perspective, here's another image of the moon. And then just beyond the moon, there is Mother Earth.
And this is an image we never got 50 years ago during Apollo, because Orion went much farther, almost 270,000 miles away from us a long elliptical orbit of the moon. And so we got a picture, thanks to the camera being on the solar array wings. So we got the spacecraft, the moon and the earth. And that's a shot that a pilot rated vehicle has never captured before.
And again, it gives you a sense of scale. It's a reminder of how fragile our little home is in the great inky void, so to speak. And it also gives you a real flavor of the adventure of this journey.
And this last image is a close up of the earth. Look at that.
That was just before splashdown a little while ago today. And as it came in the images were stunning. And this is a reminder to me, we focus on these missions as moon missions, but I think in many ways they become Earth missions, because we spend so much time looking back at our little blue marble and it's such a beautiful place to live. I think you would agree it's my favorite planet.
But here they were coming in at 25,000 miles an hour. And this was, you know, really the nailbiting time for the team in Houston and elsewhere. Would this spacecraft, the heat shield work with those parachutes open up with this novel reentry technique, this skipping technique that they did similar to skipping a stone with that work. It seems like everything did.
Miles, as you mentioned, the historic Apollo moon landing took place 50 years ago, almost to the day. Dare I ask, why do we need to go back?
First of all, you know, the landmass of the Moon is about the continent of Africa. Imagine if we landed at six places in Africa, and declared ourselves experts on Africa. So there's obviously more to learn there.
Everything that NASA is doing right now is with an eye toward having an encampment on the moon eventually, and using that as a way of learning how to go even farther out. The next step logically would be Mars. But it's also kind of interesting to look back and take a moment to look at our planet in this way and appreciate the fragility of the place we live on. And maybe, maybe we could get along a little better when we look at the earth this way a little more.
Maybe, maybe, Miles O'Brien, the best of the best. Thanks so much.
You're welcome, Geoff.
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