- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2021

NASA on Tuesday appeared to successfully conduct a key water landing test on a model of its Orion spacecraft as part of the Artemis mission’s goal of returning to the moon with a female astronaut.

Engineers dropped a 14,000-pound test version of the Orion spacecraft crew capsule into the Hydro Impact Basin at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

It was the second drop test to make sure the capsule landed safely in the water and to finalize computer models of external forces of the structure before the Artemis II flight test, the first mission with a crew aboard Orion, NASA said.

The crew capsule was dropped into a 20-foot deep basin from a height of about 7 feet, traveling at 10-20 mph, according to NASA employees at the test site. The capsule dipped briefly into the water before quickly floating to the surface.

“It can’t get better than that,” Jacob Putnam, a data analyst for the Langley facility, said after the test. “It looked like the perfect release, and it looks like the capsule behaved as expected.”

NASA started a series of water impact drop tests last month to better understand what the spacecraft and its crew might experience upon landing in the Pacific Ocean after the Artemis moon mission. The tests simulate landing scenarios mimicking “real-world conditions,” NASA said.

The next test will drop the capsule from a higher height, while the last water drop will be a “swing test,” Mr. Putnam said, so that NASA will know how the capsule lands at both a vertical and horizontal velocity.

The space agency is aiming to fly astronauts around the moon in 2023 with the goal of landing astronauts, including the first woman, on the lunar surface on the Artemis III trip in 2024.

NASA astronauts are the best of the best, and our astronaut corps today is more diverse than ever before. We will likely send two crew members to the surface on early lunar expeditions, including the first woman,” said spokeswoman Kathryn Hambleton.

NASA‘s long-term goal has always been to send humans to Mars — and we will use the moon to help us get there. The moon is a natural steppingstone to Mars. We will demonstrate new technologies, capabilities and business approaches needed for exploration farther into the solar system,” she said.

NASA has tentative plans to launch Artemis I, an uncrewed flight to test the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, in November ahead of the Artemis II crewed flight around the moon.

Ms. Hambleton said NASA hasn’t yet assigned a specific crew for the Artemis II or Artemis III flights. She said the agency typically makes crew assignments two years in advance. The crew, which could include any of the 18 members of the Artemis team, might be announced later this year or early next year, she said.

“Artemis, named after the twin sister of Apollo who is also the goddess of the moon, encompasses all of our efforts to return humans to the moon, which will prepare us and propel us on to Mars,” Ms. Hambleton said. “Through the Artemis program, we look forward to sharing with the country and the world the historic moment when we land the first woman on the surface of the moon. As the ‘torch bringer,’ literally and figuratively, Artemis will light our way to Mars.”

NASA is manufacturing the SLS rocket for Artemis II and III at its Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The Orion crew module for Artemis II is being prepared for its mission at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while the service module is anticipated to arrive at the center this summer.

The crew module for Artemis III is scheduled to be transported from Michoud to Kennedy later this year.

NASA plans to send astronauts to the moon’s south pole, where humans have never ventured before, Ms. Hambleton said. Scientists believe the area is rich in water ice, which possibly could be converted into drinkable water, rocket fuel or oxygen and help astronauts explore deeper into the solar system.

Using robots, the space agency is studying the region through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, in which it partners with several U.S. companies to deliver science and technology to the moon. The companies bid on delivering NASA payloads to the moon’s surface.

As part of the Artemis program, commercial deliveries beginning this year will perform science experiments and test technologies to help NASA explore the moon and prepare for human missions.

NASA has five robotic flights to the moon scheduled through 2023. Payloads are booked to be delivered on flights to the moon in late 2023 and early 2024.

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