After flying to the moon and back, a NASA spacecraft should finally finish its long journey by the end of 2022.
The Orion spacecraft is on a truck bound for NASA's Kennedy Space Center in coastal Florida after splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11 to conclude Artemis 1, NASA officials said in an update late Thursday (Dec. 21). The spacecraft orbited the moon before splashdown, and has been in preparation for its cross-country journey to Florida since arriving in San Diego port on Dec. 13.
"Once at Kennedy, technicians will open the hatch and unload several payloads ... as part of de-servicing operations," NASA officials wrote. "In addition to removing the payloads, Orion's heat shield and other elements will be removed for analysis, and remaining hazards will be offloaded."
Before going on the truck, engineers did inspections of the windows of Orion and put on hard covers, to protect the glass from the long overland journey. Team members also deflated five airbags on the top of Orion, which were available in case the spacecraft had splashed upside-down in the Pacific.
Aside from a biology experiment removed from Orion shortly after its arrival in port, many of the payloads are still onboard the spacecraft. These strange things include three mannequins, a Snoopy plush doll, Shaun the Sheep, Lego figurines and a space version of Amazon's Alexa, among other things.
NASA is expected to name the crew of Artemis 2 in early 2023, with the Canadian Space Agency making a parallel announcement about its own astronaut on the mission. Artemis 2 will circle the moon no earlier than 2024 to test out life support systems on Orion. The first landing mission, Artemis 3, is expected to follow and put astronauts back on the moon in 2025 or so.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.