A portion of the far side of the moon looms large just beyond the Orion spacecraft in this image taken on December 5, 2022, the 20th day of the Artemis I mission, by a camera on the tip of one of Orion's solar arrays. File Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo
March 7 (UPI) -- NASA's Artemis I mission was a resounding success, and the program managers behind it say it reaffirms their plan to send a crew back to the moon in 2024.
NASA held a teleconference on Tuesday to discuss the findings from the unmanned mission that launched on Nov. 16 for a 25 day mission to orbit the moon. The message was twofold: The mission accomplished its objectives and there are still tweaks to be made ahead of the November 2024 launch of Artemis II.
"That was a flight test really for us to prove out our systems in a real environment and even push the vehicle beyond where we had originally intended," said Jim Free, associate administrator for exploration systems development.
The Orion spacecraft returned to Earth on Dec. 11 and landed within about 2.4 miles of its target. During its journey to the moon, Orion traveled 270,000 miles into space.
While in space, Orion captured a number of images of Earth utilizing 24 onboard cameras. Free said this was a larger point of emphasis during Artemis I and will remain so moving forward.
Howard Hu, program manager of the Orion program at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said it was a record-breaking flight in terms of distance traveled. According to Hu, 161 flight test objectives were completed, including 21 that were added along the way.
Though much of the mission went according to plan, Hu said his research team is trying to understand the root cause of some excessive charring to the heat shield that defied expectations.
The heat shield is a series of tiles that protect the rocket upon re-entry. The amount of charring on Orion was within an allowable amount for a safe flight, according to Hu, but he said he is curious why none of the agency's models and test programs did not catch any issues.
"We are taking data from re-entry and coordinating it with heat shield sensors to learn how to understand the phenomenon," Hu said. "When we have unexpected behavior it is going to drive us to have a root cause. We are being very cautious to make sure we do our due diligence."
The success of Artemis I has not changed the schedule on Artemis II or other future missions, Hu said. The engine section is on track to be shipped this summer to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Skirt boosters and structural adapters already are on site. Service and command modules will be completed by midsummer, and the mobile launcher will be prepared for Artemis II in December. Stacking of the rocket will begin in the first quarter of 2024.