NASA opens the hatch of the Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft (photo)

NASA has begun unpacking the Orion spacecraft after its epic mission to the moon.

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida opened the Orion’s hatch and began extracting payloads that flew to the Moon and returned aboard the Artemis 1 mission capsule. This work will take quite a bit of time.

“Technicians will remove nine avionics units from Orion this week, which will subsequently be repaired for Artemis 2, the first mission with astronauts,” NASA officials wrote in an update. (will open in a new tab) Tuesday (January 10).

“In the coming months, technicians will remove dangerous items left on board. Upon completion, the spacecraft will travel to NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Glenn Proving Ground. [in Ohio] for interruption level acoustic vibration and other environmental testing,” they added.

Related: 10 best images of NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission

Artemis 1 lifted off on November 16 from KSC on a Space Launch System rocket, sending an uncrewed Orion on a cruise to lunar orbit. The mission, the first of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, ended when the Orion splashed down off the coast of Baja California on December 11.

The capsule then drove a truck through the country and returned to KSC on December 30th. Since then, workers have been testing Orion and its various systems, evaluating their performance during the nearly 26-day Artemis 1 mission.

The capsule’s 16.5-foot-wide (5-meter) heat shield — the largest of its kind ever flown — draws particular attention given the extreme conditions it was exposed to. During Orion’s return through Earth’s atmosphere on December 11, the heat shield withstood temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees Celsius), about half that of the Sun’s surface.

Technicians inspect the heat shield of the Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo published Jan. 6, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/Skip Williams)

These ongoing checks will serve as the basis for preparations for the Artemis 2 mission, which is due to send astronauts to the moon in 2024.

If all goes well with this flight, NASA could begin preparations 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. Artemis 3 should launch in 2025 or 2026.

Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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