NASA’s Orion flies 79 miles above the lunar surface for its closet approach to the moon


NASA’s Orion is now coming home after conducting its longest engine burn that shot the capsule around the dark side of the moon where it soared 79 miles above the lunar surface – the closest flyby of the Artemis I mission.

The capsule expectancy lost communication with the Artemis ground team for 31 minutes and performed its second engine burn lasted for 207 seconds.

The Artemis ground team waited patiently during the communication loss, hoping the burn was activated at 11:43 am and lasted for the scheduled three minutes and 27 seconds.

Orion linked back with its team at 12:14 pm ET, confirming that the burn was as expected and that it is now on a return trajectory back to Earth.

 ‘For Orion, this is not goodbye to the moon, but a see you later,’ the NASA livestream said, referring to the notion that the capsule will take the same journey during the crewed Artemis II mission.

NASA's Orion soared toward the moon for its closest approach yet. It passed 79 miles above the lunar surface for its closest flyby during the Artemis I mission

NASA’s Orion soared toward the moon for its closest approach yet. It passed 79 miles above the lunar surface for its closest flyby during the Artemis I mission

The American space agency plans to host another livestream at 5 pm ET to discuss the results of the return-powered flyby burn and the deployment of recovery assets to sea ahead of Orion’s splashdown.

On Thursday, the capsule began the first steps for its journey back to Earth by leaving the lunar orbit.

The departure burn began at 4:45 pm ET and lasted under two minutes.

The spacecraft arrived at the moon on November 21 after traveling some 230,000 miles in five days.

Orion traveled toward the moon before performing its longest engine burn yet. It lasted for 207 seconds

Orion traveled toward the moon before performing its longest engine burn yet. It lasted for 207 seconds

The engine burn shot the capsule around the dark side of the moon. Here is Orion before reaching the mooon

The engine burn shot the capsule around the dark side of the moon. Here is Orion before reaching the mooon

Now Orion is on a path toward Earth, which can be seen hanging in the blackness of space

Now Orion is on a path toward Earth, which can be seen hanging in the blackness of space

The capsule zoomed over the landing sites of Apollo 11, 12 and 14 as it came within 80 miles of the lunar surface.

It flew farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever done – around 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon.

Orion made history shortly after launching on November 16 when it snapped a stunning ‘blue marble’ image of Earth nine hours into its epic journey.

This image marks the first time a human-rated craft has seen this view since the last moon mission nearly 50 years ago during the 1972 Apollo mission.

Orion will stay in space the longest without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than any other craft before it.

The capsule will have to withstand temperatures of 5,000F as it travels at speeds of 24,500 mph before splashing down.

If the mission is successful, the uncrewed Artemis I will be followed by a human trip around the moon in 2024 and could lead to the first woman and first person of color following in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps the year after.

The plan is to return human boots to the moon on Artemis III in 2025 and ultimately build a permanent lunar outpost to explore deeper into the cosmos so people can travel to Mars.

It would be the first time people have stepped on the moon since 1972.

Pictured is Orion heading toward the moon for its closest flyby

Pictured is Orion heading toward the moon for its closest flyby 

Named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, Artemis signifies the modern incarnation of the US space agency’s Apollo program, which sent astronauts to the moon for the first time.

This mission has no humans on board, but if everything goes smoothly and the Orion capsule splashes down to Earth as planned, the hope is that a four-person crew can make a trip around the moon in two years.

Instead of humans, a trio of human-sized test dummies are standing in for the crew in the Orion capsule, their bodies swarming with sensors to measure radiation and vibration.

In the commander’s seat is Commander Moonikin Campos — a tribute to electrical engineer Arturo Campos, who played a crucial role in getting the troubled Apollo 13 mission safely back to Earth in 1970.

Clad in a new Orion Crew Survival System spacesuit, the mannequin provides NASA scientists with essential data on what humans experience during a trip to the moon.

Orion made history shortly after launching on November 16 when it snapped a stunning 'blue marble' image of Earth nine hours into its epic journey

Orion made history shortly after launching on November 16 when it snapped a stunning ‘blue marble’ image of Earth nine hours into its epic journey

If the mission is successful, the uncrewed Artemis I will be followed by a human trip around the moon in 2024

 If the mission is successful, the uncrewed Artemis I will be followed by a human trip around the moon in 2024

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion crew capsule, lifts off from launch complex 39-B for the uncrewed Artemis I mission to the moon

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion crew capsule, lifts off from launch complex 39-B for the uncrewed Artemis I mission to the moon

Two other mannequins named Helga and Zohar are sitting in Orion’s passenger seats. They reflect the US space agency’s determination that a manned flight to the moon will soon include a woman.

The dummies have torsos made of materials that mimic a woman’s softer tissue, organs and bones.

They are fitted with some 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors to measure the amount of radiation exposure they encounter during the mission.

One is wearing a radiation protection vest and the other is not.

Artemis I is designed to show that the SLS rocket and Orion capsule are ready to carry astronauts for Artemis II and, ultimately, the Artemis III mission to return humans to the moon.

In preparation for Orion’s return to Earth, NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program and the US Navy, who will recover Orion from the Pacific Ocean, completed its final training day at sea, using a mock capsule in the water for divers and small boats to practice open water recovery procedures. 

NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon in 2025 as part of the Artemis mission

Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology. 

NASA has chosen her to personify its path back to the moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2025 –  including the first woman and the next man.

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars. 

Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  

Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the moon and beyond. 

During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.

It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission. 

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars. This graphic explains the various stages of the mission

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars. This graphic explains the various stages of the mission

Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before. 

With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars. 

The will take crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with humans aboard. 

Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging crew and cargo mission needs in deep space.

Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.

The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy. 



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