Photos: Amphib USS Portland Recovers NASA's Orion Space Capsule

Artemis capsule in well deck of USS Portland
Courtesy USN

Published Dec 11, 2022 11:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, the crew of the amphib USS Portland recovered the Artemis I Orion space capsule off Baja California, completing NASA's first moon-landing rehearsal in a generation.

The Artemis I mission was the first full test of the next-generation manned capsule for NASA's Artemis moon landing program, the successor to the Cold War-era Apollo program. The rocket carrying the capsule took off on November 16, without crew, on a mission to test capsule systems for functionality and safety. It completed the 25-day test without incident and splashed down as planned at about 0940 hours on Sunday. 

Image courtesy USN

After the landing, NASA's flight controllers ran about two hours of tests to check on the craft's performance during atmospheric reentry. When this was finished, a Navy recovery team motored out, photographed the capsule for further study, and attached it to a tow line to haul it back into USS Portland's well deck. 

The Orion capsule will be back in port for offloading and further examination on December 13-15. 

Images courtesy USN

The uneventful splashdown was a positive ending for the long-delayed Artemis I mission. Hydrogen leaks and bad weather forced launch cancellations in November, and NASA's team worked hard to overcome technical issues, Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin said - but with excellent results. 

"This is what mission success looks like, folks," he said. "We now have a foundational deep space transportation system."

The next Artemis mission will be a full dress rehearsal: a crewed launch to circle the moon and test the capsule's serviceability in flight. 

The third mission, Artemis III, will be the real thing. In a compex, choreographed ballet, a crewed Orion capsule will meet up with an uncrewed Starship HLS rocket lander in orbit around the moon. The crew will transfer over to the lander, descend to the moon's surface for up to three days, then return to the Orion capsule and head home for Earth.