NASA's Orion spacecraft is a spacecraft designed for deep space exploration missions. It is intended to be a successor to the retired space shuttles, and is capable of carrying astronauts to destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as the Moon and Mars.
The spacecraft developed by NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA) and other international partners, safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11, 2022, 50 years to the day of NASA's Apollo 17 moon landing, completing a successful and very fruitful mission to the Moon. This event marks a significant milestone for the Artemis program, and will provide the space agency with foundational knowledge that will be used in future Artemis missions.
The mission, known as Artemis I, launched the uncrewed Orion spacecraft on the back of a Space Launch System (SLS) on a journey around the Moon where conducted a series of scientific experiments, multiple system tests such as navigation, imaging capabilities, propulsion systems, and more. The spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 16.
The Orion spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles throughout its journey, and according to early analysis, all of Orion's gear passed the test, which means NASA is able to push forward with preparation for Artemis II. Artemis II is the second planned mission of NASA's Artemis program, which is aimed at returning humans to the Moon and establishing a sustainable presence on the lunar surface.
The Artemis 2 mission is slated to be the first manned mission of the Artemis program, and will see a crew of four astronauts travel to the Moon and back aboard the Orion spacecraft - essentially the same reconnaissance flight as Artemis 1, but featuring a crew aboard Orion.
The Artemis 2 mission is currently scheduled to launch in 2024 and will be the first time that humans have traveled beyond low Earth orbit since the end of the Apollo missions in the 1970s.
Throughout Orion's journey the spacecraft captured images and video footage of the Moon, showcasing its breathtaking size. These images and video will be used for a number of purposes such as scientific research, public outreach campaigns and education.