By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower
Artemis I, NASA's test mission for a human return to the Moon, is scheduled to splash-down in the Pacific Ocean, south of San Diego, early Sunday afternoon (2022 December 11). This will come 50 years after the last Apollo mission that landed astronauts on the Moon.
Splash-down of Artemis I is currently expected at 12:39 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) / 17:39 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on Sunday Afternoon, 2022 December 11. NASA-TV Live-Stream coverage will begin Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. EST / 16:00 UTC.
Internet link to NASA-TV Live-Stream coverage of the event near the end of this blog-post.
The return of Artemis I comes 50 years after the mission of Apollo 17, the last mission to take American astronauts to the Moon. Apollo 17 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on 1972 December 7 at 12:33 a.m. EST / 5:33 UTC.
NASA astronauts Eugene Cernan (mission Commander) and Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot) landed on the Moon, while Ronald Evans (Command Module Pilot) continued orbiting the Moon. The Apollo 17 Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), Challenger, landed on the Moon at 2:55 p.m. EST / 19:55 UTC on 1972 December 11.
The astronauts on the Moon performed three EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities – in this case, Moon-walks), including the use of the third Project Apollo LRV (Lunar Rover), popularly known as the Moon Buggy. Humans took off from the Moon, for the last time in the 20th century, at 5:54 p.m. EST / 22:54 UTC on 1972 December 14. Apollo 17 splashed-down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:25 p.m. EST / 19:25 UTC on 1972 December 19.
Under pressure, NASA re-assigned Harrison Schmitt to Apollo 17, to ensure a professional scientist would be sent to the Moon, before the end of Project Apollo's Moon missions; Apollo missions 18, 19, and 20 had been canceled, primarily due to budget cuts. Harrison Schmitt was the only professional geologist to land on the Moon.
The Apollo 17 mission broke several records for human spacecraft:
Longest crewed lunar landing mission: 12 days, 14 hours
Greatest distance from a spacecraft during any type of EVA: 4.7 statute miles / 7.6 kilometers
Longest total lunar surface EVA: 22 hours, 4 minutes
Largest lunar sample return: ~254 pounds / ~115 kilograms
Longest time in lunar orbit: 6 days, 4 hours
Most lunar orbits: 75
According to the NASA Artemis I blog:
“At present, we are on track to have a fully successful mission with some bonus objectives that we’ve achieved along the way,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager. “On entry day, we will realize our priority one objective, which is to demonstrate the vehicle at lunar re-entry conditions, as well as our priority three objective, which is to retrieve the spacecraft.”
Although the launch of Artemis I was delayed several times until the successful launch early on the morning of 2022 November 16, the mission has proceeded without major incidents. Now, the successful return, testing a new spacecraft heat-shield, is the last major test for this test mission.
After evaluating current weather conditions at the proposed landing site in the Pacific Ocean (off of San Diego), NASA officials decided to move the landing site a little further south, from the primary landing site. This new site is near Guadalupe Island, 130 nautical miles / 241 kilometers off of the west coast of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula.
Currently, both the Orion crew module and the service module are traveling back to Earth, similar to the Apollo missions. And, as with the Apollo missions, the Artemis service module will separate from the crew module just before re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. The service module will, then, burn-up as it re-enters the atmosphere.
The Artemis I trajectory is specifically designed by NASA to ensure that any parts of the service module, which do not burn-up in the atmosphere, do not pose a hazard to people, property, or shipping-lanes. This is in sharp contrast to the recent re-entry of Chinese space boosters, used to launch segments of their new space station into orbit. These boosters fell, completely uncontrolled, back to Earth. Fortunately, these boosters seem to have fallen into the Indian Ocean.
The Orion crew module will use a “skip entry” technique to re-enter Earth's atmosphere. According to NASA, this technique “enables the spacecraft to accurately and consistently splash down at the selected landing site. Orion will dip into the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere and use that atmosphere, along with the lift of the capsule, to skip back out of the atmosphere, then reenter for final descent under parachutes and splash down. This technique will allow a safe re-entry for future Artemis missions regardless of when and where they return from the Moon.”
Initially, the Earth's atmosphere will slow the spacecraft to 325 miles-per-hour / 523 kilometers-per-hour. Then, the parachutes will slow Orion to a splash-down speed in about 10 minutes.
At about 5 miles / 8 kilometers above the Earth's surface, three small parachutes will deploy. After the three small parachutes pull the forward bay covers away, two drogue parachutes will slow and stabilize the crew capsule. At an altitude of 9,500 feet / 2,895.6 meters and at a spacecraft speed of 130 miles-per-hour / 209 kilometers-per-hour, three pilot parachutes will lift and deploy the main parachutes. Those 116-foot / 35-kilometer diameter parachutes, made of nylon broad-cloth, will slow the Orion spacecraft to a splash-down speed of about 20 miles-per-hour / 32 kilometers-per-hour.
According to NASA, “The parachute system includes 11 parachutes made of 36,000 square feet of canopy material. The canopy is attached to the top of the spacecraft with more than 13 miles of Kevlar lines that are deployed in series using cannon-like mortars and pyrotechnic thrusters and bolt cutters.”
Just before 7:00 p.m. EST last evening (2022 December 8) / 0:00 UTC on December 9, Artemis was traveling back to Earth at a speed of 1,415 miles-per-hour / 2,277 kilometers-per-hour. The spacecraft was 207,200 statute miles / 333,456 kilometers from Earth and 180,400 statute miles / 290,325 kilometers from the Moon.
Internet link to NASA-TV Live-Stream coverage of the return of Artemis I:
Link >>> https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive
NASA Artemis Blog: Link >>> https://blogs.nasa.gov/artemis/
Internet Links to Additional Information ---
Artemis I -
NASA: Link >>> https://www.nasa.gov/artemis-1
Wikipedia: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemis_1
Apollo 17 -
Wikipedia: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_17
Artemis Program: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemis_program
Project Apollo: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program
Canceled Apollo Missions: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canceled_Apollo_missions
Related Blog-Posts ---
"Live-Stream Web-Cast: NASA Artemis I to Orbit Moon - Launch Wed. 1:04 a.m."
Tue., 2022 Nov. 15.
"UPDATE: Live-Stream: NASA Artemis I to Orbit Moon - Launch Perhaps Nov. 16."
"Public Comments Due May 31: NASA Plans to Explore Moon & Mars." Mon., 2022 May 23.
"Roll-Out Thur.: NASA's New Moon Rocket / Fly Your Name Around Moon on Artemis I." Tue., 2022 March 15.
Friday, 2022 December 9.
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