NASA has begun unpacking the Orion spacecraft after its epic Moon mission.
Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida have opened Orion’s hatch and begun removal of payloads aboard the capsule on the Artemis 1 mission to the Moon and back. This work will take a long time.
“This week, technicians will remove nine avionics boxes from Orion, which will later be refurbished for Artemis 2, the first mission with astronauts,” NASA officials wrote in an update. (opens in new tab) on Tuesday (January 10).
“In the coming months, technicians will remove hazardous objects that remain on board. Once complete, the spacecraft will travel to NASA Glenn’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility. [in Ohio] for null-level acoustic vibration and other environmental testing,” he said.
Connected: The 10 Greatest Images from NASA’s Artemis 1 Moon Mission
Artemis 1 was launched atop a Space Launch System rocket from KSC on November 16, sending the uncrewed Orion on a shakeout cruise into lunar orbit. The mission, the first of NASA’s Artemis program of Moon exploration, wrapped up when Orion splashed down off the coast of Baja California on December 11.
The capsule then traveled across the country by truck, arriving back at KSC on 30 December. Since then, workers have been observing Orion and its various systems, assessing how they performed during the nearly 26-day Artemis 1 mission.
The capsule’s 16.5-foot-wide (5 m) heat shield—the largest of its type ever—received special attention, given the extreme conditions experienced. During Orion’s re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere on December 11, the heat shield endured temperatures of up to 5,000 °F (2,800 °C), about half as hot as the Sun’s surface.
These ongoing observations will inform preparations for the Artemis 2 mission, which is scheduled to launch astronauts around the Moon in 2024.
If all goes well with that flight, NASA could begin gearing up for Artemis 3, which will land crew members near the moon’s south pole, where the agency plans to build a research outpost by the end of the decade. Has been Artemis 3 is targeted for launch in 2025 or 2026.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab), Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) either Facebook (opens in new tab),