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Orion Spaceship Comes Back to Shore After Making a Splash

Image: Navy personnel work as NASA's Orion space capsule is prepared to be unloaded from the USS Anchorage
Navy personnel work as NASA's Orion space capsule is prepared to be unloaded from the USS Anchorage on Dec. 8, 2014, in San Diego. Gregory Bull / AP

After two orbits around the planet and a successful splashdown in the Pacific, the Orion deep-space capsule has been returned to land. A NASA-Navy team retrieved the uncrewed capsule on Friday and brought it back to Naval Base San Diego on Monday aboard the USS Anchorage.

"This mission exemplifies the U.S. Navy commitment to the research and development of technologies and techniques to ensure the safety of human spaceflight support," said the ship's commanding officer, Capt. Michael McKenna. "I could not be more proud of my crew."

NASA Orion Program; USS Anchorage (LPD 23); NASA’s Orion Crew Module
Navy divers recover the Orion module 275 miles off the coast of California on Dec. 5. Gary Keen / U.S. Navy

Aboard the Orion capsule are dozens of sensors that recorded all kinds of data on the craft's performance and the radiation it encountered — a major risk during any extended trip in space. Orion is meant to be a crewed, reusable spaceship, and with luck it'll be heading to Mars in the 2030s — so it's important for its engineers to consider the comfort and safety of its future occupants.

Over the next couple of weeks, NASA will truck the capsule 2,500 miles cross-country to Kennedy Space Center. A detailed analysis of the spacecraft and the data it recorded will be factored into the preparations for Orion's next robotic test flight — a trip around the moon and back that's expected to take place in 2018.

Test Flight of NASA’s Orion a Success From Launch to Splashdown 2:38

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—Devin Coldewey