Artemis I: NASA’s Orion capsule flies past the moon

It’s the first time a capsule has visited the moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago, and it was a major milestone in test flight.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – by NASA Orion The capsule reached the moon on Monday, whipping around the back and passing within 80 miles on its way to a record-breaking lunar orbit.

The close approach occurred when the crew capsule and its three test dummies were on the far side of the moon. Because of the half-hour loss of communications, Houston air traffic controllers didn’t know if the critical engine burn was going well until the capsule emerged from behind the moon more than 232,000 miles from Earth.

It’s the first time a capsule has visited the moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago, and it marked a huge milestone in the $4.1 billion test flight that began last Wednesday. Orion’s trajectory passed over the landing sites of Apollo 11, 12, and 14 – mankind’s first three moon landings.

The moon appeared larger and larger in video echoed back earlier in the morning as the capsule covered the last few thousand miles since launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida last Wednesday atop the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA was.

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“This is one of those days that you’ve thought and talked about for a long, long time,” Flight Director Zeb Scoville said while waiting for contact to be reestablished.

As the capsule swung out from behind the moon, onboard cameras returned an image of Earth — a blue dot surrounded by blackness

Orion had to slingshot around the moon to gain enough speed to enter the sweeping, oblique lunar orbit. If all goes well, another engine igniter will launch the capsule into this orbit on Friday.

Next weekend, Orion will break NASA’s distance record for a spacecraft designed for astronauts – nearly 250,000 miles from Earth, set by Apollo 13 in 1970. And it will go further and next Monday a maximum distance from Earth of reach nearly 270,000 miles.

The capsule will spend almost a week in lunar orbit before flying home. A splashdown in the Pacific is scheduled for December 11th.

Orion does not have a lunar module; A touchdown won’t come until NASA astronauts attempt a moon landing on SpaceX’s spacecraft in 2025. Before that, however, astronauts will strap themselves in for a lunar orbit in Orion as early as 2024.

NASA managers were delighted with the mission’s progress. The Space Launch System rocket performed exceptionally well on its debut, they told reporters late last week.

However, the 322-foot rocket caused more damage than expected on the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. The force of the 8.8 million pound starting thrust was so great that it blew off the elevator’s blast doors. Artemis I: NASA’s Orion capsule flies past the moon

Laura Coffey

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