NASA’s new Orion crew capsule came within 81 miles of the lunar surface Monday.
NASA’s new Orion crew capsule came within 81 miles of the lunar surface Monday. Its path also took the spacecraft over the Apollo 11 landing site, Tranquility Base, where astronauts first landed on the moon in 1969.
The flyby occurred after Orion ignited its main engine for 2 1/2 minutes, a critical maneuver that put the vehicle on course to enter the moon’s orbit later this week.
The lunar approach is part of NASA’s Artemis I mission, which launched from Florida early on Nov. 16. The flight is the first major mission in the space agency’s Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon.
No astronauts are on board Orion. Artemis I is testing the hardware that NASA plans to use to send people to the the moon in the future.
Since its launch on top of NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket, Orion has spent the last 5 days on its way to lunar orbit. The capsule must perform a series of engine burns, as well as harness the gravity of the moon to put Orion into an elongated orbit known as a distant retrograde orbit.
Monday’s burn was one of two major maneuvers that Orion must do to enter lunar orbit. On Nov. 25 at around 4:52 p.m., Orion will perform a second burn to insert itself into orbit, where it will remain for about a week before leaving on the journey home. While in orbit around the moon, Orion will travel beyond 248,655 miles (400,170 kilometers) from Earth. That’s the farthest a vehicle made for humans has ever traveled before.
Orion performed its engine burn Monday morning while traveling on the far side of the moon, during a communication blackout from Earth. Once the vehicle emerged from the blackout, NASA was able to acquire its signal again and Orion sent down images of a distant planet Earth, appearing as a tiny orb surrounded by darkness.