NASA studying unexpected performance of Orion’s heat shield ahead of crew mission

Enlarge / NASA’s Orion spacecraft descends toward the Pacific Ocean after a successful mission in December. (credit: NASA)

About three months have passed since NASA’s Orion spacecraft splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after a flight beyond the Moon and back. At the time, the space agency said the Artemis I mission had successfully met its goals and paved the way for humans to follow suit.

This week, after carefully reviewing data from that Artemis I mission since splashdown, space agency officials reiterated that although there were a few minor issues with the flight, overall it bolstered confidence. As a result NASA’s chief of human exploration for deep space, Jim Free, said the agency is targeting “late November” of 2024 for the Artemis II mission.

During this flight, four astronauts—likely including a Canadian—will spend a little more than a week in deep space. After checking out the performance of Orion in low-Earth orbit, the spacecraft will fly into what is known as a “free return trajectory” around the Moon, which will bring them as close as 7,500 km to the surface of the Moon before swinging back.

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