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NASA’s Artemis 1 landed today, what it means for Canada

After 25 days in space, NASA’s unmanned spacecraft Artemis I returned to earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

The successful mission will serve as the basis for human exploration of deep space.

The spacecraft’s return happened around 12:40 p.m. EST on Sunday — the same day as Apollo’s last moon landing in 1972.

Although led by NASA and a global community, Canada plays a key role in the Artemis program. The Canadian Space Agency continues to develop new technologies for space travel, contributing to the international community’s goal of establishing a human presence on the Moon.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a Canadian on the moon on one of the first missions,” said Keith Cowing, editor of SpaceRef.com, a media company specializing in space news. “For NASA, it’s important because we’re going back. But this time we’re going back with a lot of friends globally.”

Speaking to CTV News Channel on Sunday, Cowing said he remembered the space race and the geopolitics that played into the first moon landing, but now Canada is no longer on the sidelines.

“There’s something called the Artemis Accords, which is an agreement with a number of nations…including Canada, Europe, Japan—a whole bunch of countries all working together,” he said. Cowing. “And as part of the Artemis program, Canada is going to have one of its famous robotic arms on the Gateway Station.”

An important aspect of the first Artemis mission is the re-entry of the Orion spacecraft into Earth orbit.

“It’s going to hit Earth’s atmosphere, but this time it’s going to jump like a rock on a lake and help slow it down and then land just off the coast of California,” Cowling said. “So that sounds simple, but that’s probably the most biting aspect of this whole mission other than the launch.”

When the spacecraft enters the atmosphere at such a high speed, estimated at around 25,000 to 40,000 kilometers per hour, the temperature will rise to around 2,700 degrees Celsius, Cowing said.

“There’s no real margin for error,” he said. “He’s going to go in, jump and go down, so the heat shield has to work perfectly.”

Artemis faced a rocky start to the mission when it was delayed for three months due to technical issues and a tropical storm. It was launched on November 16 and is the first step in NASA’s program to get humans back on the moon and eventually establish a lunar base.

“Hopefully we’re sustainable in this area, we’re going to go back…and develop a capability on the moon instead of just going to visit and stay home for half a century,” Cowing said.

The program is divided into three parts, the first of which concluded on Sunday with a successful return of the spacecraft. The second launch is expected to take place “no later than” May 2024 and will feature a crewed test flight, the Canadian Space Agency’s website says.

The final mission is expected to launch in 2025 and will send astronauts to the moon and “may land humans on the lunar surface.”

Historical missions will also land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the moon.

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