NASA spacecraft returns to Earth after test flight to the moon

After a three-week test flight around the moon, the American spacecraft Orion returned to Earth on Sunday.



The rocket flew 40,000 miles past the moon, a record for a spacecraft capable of carrying a crew.

According to the American space agency NASA, the spacecraft performed better than expected. Just before re-entry into the atmosphere, Orion, the American capsule that will later house the crew, was disconnected from the European part containing the propulsion and burned up in the atmosphere. Hanging on parachutes, the American vessel landed with a soft splash in the Pacific Ocean west of Mexico. The splashdown was scheduled for 18:39 Belgian time on Saturday. A naval ship then lifted it out of the water and brought it ashore.


The rocket flew 40,000 miles past the moon, a record for a spacecraft capable of carrying a crew. The unmanned test flight of the SLS rocket, the most powerful in the world, is the starting point for a US program to return astronauts to the lunar surface 50 years after the Apollo lunar mission.

“We are witnessing a special moment. The first step in our country’s return to the moon and then to Mars.’

Charlie Blackwell Thompson

NASA launch director

The mission used mannequins equipped with sensors that allow NASA to collect data on factors such as vibration, acceleration and radiation. That’s why there are around 300 Belgian-made sensors on board. These come from the SCK CEN nuclear research center in Mol and aim to measure the radiation dose that astronauts incur during such missions down to organ level.

Astronaut of colors

A manned Artemis II flight around the moon and back could take place as early as 2024, followed within a few years by the first lunar landing by astronauts, including a woman and the first person of color, with Artemis III. “We are witnessing a special moment,” NASA launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said last month. “The first launch of Artemis, the first step in our country’s return to the moon and then to Mars.”

First private lunar mission launched

A rocket carrying an unmanned commercial lunar lander was also launched at Cape Canaveral on Sunday. If that mission succeeds, it will be the first private lunar mission ever.
The initiative comes from the Japanese company ispace. It launched a Falcon 9 rocket from American space company SpaceX on Sunday at Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying the company’s Hakuto-R lunar lander. It should land gently on the moon at the end of April if all goes as planned.
Ispace wants to be the first commercial company to land on the moon. So far, only the US, Russia and China have been successful. Attempts by Israel and India failed.
In the future, ispace will extract raw materials and water on the moon. It could help build a manned base on the moon. The Hakuto-R mission is intended to test the design and technology. To mine the moon, the Japanese work together with space agencies in the United States and Europe.
It is not certain whether the lander will actually be the first commercial device to arrive on the moon. The ship takes a long detour. It will first go as far as 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, four times as far away as the moon, and would not land until the end of April. Next spring, two other commercial landers (Nova-C and Peregrine) will also go to the moon. It is not yet clear which of the three will come first.

In four years, NASA will not just land two astronauts on the moon’s south pole. For example, the Artemis program – the name refers to the Greek goddess of the moon – also envisages the construction of a lunar base and a space station in orbit around the celestial body. That experience must then be used for the next big step: a manned flight to Mars.

The launch is not only important for the Americans. There is also a lot at stake for the European Space Agency ESA. Together with the aviation group Airbus, ESA developed the European service module, which will supply Orion with electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen and at the same time guarantee that the module stays on course. Three Belgian companies contributed to the development of this European service module.

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