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NASA's Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft leaves moon's orbit to head home

Space logo Space 01/12/2022 Brett Tingley

NASA's Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft is coming home.

The uncrewed Orion spacecraft successfully completed a lunar departure burn on Thursday (Dec. 1) to begin heading home after successful moon orbits. The burn began at 4:54 p.m. EST (2154 GMT) and lasted just under two minutes, according to NASA Television commentator Shaneequa Vereen. 

"Orion has had a successful and nominal, 1 minute and 45 second, distant retrograde orbit departure burn," Vereen announced during the agency's broadcast of the burn. The spacecraft's solar panels could be seen gently rocking back and forth on NASA Television's live broadcast as a "tiny Earth" glowed in the background.

NASA's Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft during its distant retrograde orbit departure burn. Earth can be seen in the background. © NASA NASA's Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft during its distant retrograde orbit departure burn. Earth can be seen in the background.

Orion now begins its ten-day trek home. If all goes according to plan, the capsule will splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California on Dec. 11. NASA and the United States Navy have already begun training for the recovery operation that will mark the end of the Artemis 1 mission.

Related: Artemis 1 moon rocket, NASA's most powerful ever, aced its debut launch, agency says

Live updates: NASA's Artemis 1 moon mission

Orion launched atop NASA's massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in a fiery display on Nov. 16, kicking off the space agency's highly-anticipated Artemis 1 moon mission.

The mission is the first in the agency's Artemis program, which is aimed at establishing a sustainable crewed lunar outpost near the moon's south pole by the end of the decade.

The first Artemis mission was intended as a test for both the SLS vehicle and Orion spacecraft to ensure that both are flightworthy and safe to carry human crews into deep space. If Artemis 1 goes as planned, the next mission, Artemis 2, will launch astronauts into orbit around the moon in 2024. NASA will then return astronauts to the moon no earlier than 2025 with Artemis 3

So far, Artemis 1 has met its benchmarks, according to NASA. Mission managers announced on Wednesday (Nov. 30) that the Nov. 16 launch of SLS showed the vehicle performed exactly as intended.

"The first launch of the Space Launch System rocket was simply eye-watering," Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin said. "While our mission with Orion is still underway and we continue to learn over the course of our flight, the rocket's systems performed as designed and as expected in every case," he added.

In photos: Amazing views of NASA's Artemis 1 moon rocket debut

Orion, meanwhile, has been likewise performing wonderfully by all indications. A major milestone, the spacecraft's insertion into a distant retrograde orbit around the moon, was achieved on Nov. 25

With today's burn, Orion now has a long and lonely journey home, and will no doubt be sending home gorgeous images and footage as it has throughout its flight so far. 

Follow Brett on Twitter at @bretttingley. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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