NASA's Orion spacecraft is back on dry land following its offloading from the USS Anchorage late Monday night. At Naval Base San Diego, the Anchorage lowered its well deck gate into the water, allowing for a gangplank to be laid down between the dock and ship. Sitting in a specialized recovery cradle, Orion was towed off the Anchorage by a frontloader. A group of NASA and U.S. Navy officials, including NASA Recovery Director Jeremy Graeber, USS Anchorage Commanding Officer Michael McKenna and Astronaut Sunita Williams, were on hand to speak with assembled media.
When asked how Orion recovery procedures might change for crewed flights, Jeremy Graeber said helicopters might be used to ferry astronauts from the recovery vessel back to shore. Suni Williams, a veteran astronaut who most recently commanded the International Space Station during Expedition 33 in 2012, said she was hopeful that she could fly aboard Orion one day—if time allowed. Crewed Orion flights aren't scheduled to begin until 2021. Orion will now be trucked across the United States to Kennedy Space Center, where its journey into space began on Dec. 5. NASA officials said they expect to have the spacecraft back in Florida by Christmas.
Kevin Baird, a multimedia developer, photographer and videographer with an interest in all things space, was on hand at Naval Base San Diego to photograph Orion's return. Some of his work is featured below.
NASA's Orion spacecraft was offloaded from the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego on Dec. 8, 2015.
Orion in the Anchorage
Members of the media gather on a dock at Naval Base San Diego to await the offloading of the Orion spacecraft from the USS Anchorage.
Orion in the Anchorage
NASA's Orion spacecraft sits in the well deck of the USS Anchorage prior to its offloading at Naval Base San Diego.
NASA and the Navy
NASA and U.S. Navy officials speak to the media before the offloading of the Orion spacecraft from the USS Anchorage following its successful test flight. From left: Astronaut Suni Williams, NASA Recovery Director Jeremy Graeber and USS Anchorage Commanding Officer Michael McKenna.
The Orion spacecraft is wheeled out of the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego following its safe return to Earth.
Suni Williams with Orion
Astronaut Suni Williams gives a thumbs-up in front of the Orion spacecraft following its return to dry land at Naval Base San Diego.
Orion back on dry land
The Orion spacecraft sits on dry land after being offloaded from the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego. At first glance, the heat shield appeared to have fared well.
The side of the Orion spacecraft is covered with thermal tiles to protect it from heat generated during atmospheric reentry.
Orion heat shield closeup
Unlike the space shuttle's reusable thermal protection tiles, Orion's heat shield is ablative, designed to burn off as the spacecraft reenters Earth's atmosphere.