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U.S. Navy divers help recover the Orion spacecraft after it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11, 2022.
After splashing down at 12:40 p.m. EST on Dec. 11, 2022, U.S. Navy divers help recover the Orion Spacecraft for the Artemis I mission. NASA, the Navy and other Department of Defense partners worked together to secure the spacecraft inside the well deck of USS Portland approximately five hours after Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
NASA/Josh Valcarcel

The Orion spacecraft’s first flight atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket has paved the way for future crewed missions, enabling future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. During this uncrewed flight, designated Artemis I, the spacecraft traveled thousands of miles beyond the Moon and then back to Earth over the course of about three weeks. 

Orion re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere traveling at 25,000 miles per hour, slowed to 300 mph, then parachutes deployed to slow the spacecraft to approximately 20 mph before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. 

The Landing and Recovery Team, led by the Exploration Ground Systems Program from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for safely recovering the capsule – and crew on future missions – after splashdown and returning them both to land. The interagency landing and recovery team consists of personnel and assets from the U.S. Department of Defense, including Navy amphibious specialists and Air Force weather specialists, and engineers and technicians from Kennedy, Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Lockheed Martin Space Operations. The team recovered Orion and attempted to recover hardware jettisoned during landing, such as the forward bay cover and the three main parachutes. 

Building on 50 years of experience in spacecraft recovery operations, Exploration Ground Systems is helping the agency prepare for future human deep space exploration and is leading Orion recovery operations. NASA personnel at Kennedy gained expertise in deploying and leading complex integrated recovery teams at off-site locations throughout the world during Apollo Program, Launch Services Program rocket launches, and all 135 historic space shuttle launches, working hand in hand with military personnel (both foreign and domestic), developing and coordinating search and rescue efforts, and creating and implementing recovery operations concepts and procedures compatible with the unique spacecraft or payload hazards and requirements.