NASA's Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft is finally home.
Orion arrived at the agency's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Dec. 30, wrapping up a nine-day trek across the country on the back of a truck.
KSC was the jumping-off point for Orion's epic Artemis 1 moon mission, which sent the uncrewed capsule on a shakeout cruise to lunar orbit and back. Artemis 1 launched from KSC on Nov. 16 atop a Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and ended with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California on Dec. 11.
It took two days for Orion to reach port in San Diego after that splashdown and an additional week or so for Artemis 1 team members to get the capsule ready for its long trip home, which began on Dec. 21.
That journey's end doesn't mean the Artemis 1 team can rest easy.
"Now that Orion is back at Kennedy, technicians will remove payloads from the capsule as part of de-servicing operations, including Commander Moonikin Campos, zero-gravity indicator Snoopy, and the official flight kit," NASA officials wrote in a blog post on Dec. 30 (opens in new tab). (Commander Moonikin Campos is an instrument-laden dummy that gathered a variety of data during the mission.)
"Orion's heat shield and other elements will be removed for extensive analysis, and remaining hazards will be offloaded," agency officials added.
Artemis 1 seemed to go incredibly smoothly from liftoff to splashdown. But mission team members will continue analyzing data over the coming months to make sure that SLS and Orion are ready to carry astronauts, which they're scheduled to do for the first time on the Artemis 2 mission in 2024.
Artemis 2 will send a crew around the moon and back to Earth. If all goes well with that flight, Artemis 3 will land astronauts near the lunar south pole in 2025 or 2026. NASA aims to build a crewed outpost in that region by the end of the decade, a key goad of the agency's Artemis program.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).