Six days after NASA’s Orion spacecraft was launched on its way to the moon, the gumdrop capsule was destined for the Moon. At 81 miles above the lunar surface, the spaceship passed the historic Tranquility Base – the site of the Apollo 11 moon landing – and into the history books.
With visions of Earth and the moon ringing out, the capsule completed its fly-by and set out on one of the mission’s two most important maneuvers, to set the electronic stone: passing more than 40,000 miles beyond a certain part of the moon. When the spacecraft reaches this distance, it will break the record set by the Apollo 13 crew and travel to the longest distance ever measured by human space travel.
“We’re set for a world beyond the moon,” Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission manager, said at a press conference on Monday. “It’s called a retrograde orbit distance, today was our biggest impulsive mission event to get us up to it.”
Sarafin said the launch is the first of two and by entering this unique orbit, it allows the space team to put Orion through its paces.
“It’s a big mission to lean on the system and reduce the risk,” he said.
The Moon flyby was the closest that Orion will be to the moon when it enters a remote retrograde orbit, which means that space orbits the moon from the opposite direction that the moon orbits Earth. Sarafin said this not only tests the propulsion system as it requires large propulsive maneuvers, but also the communications system on the starship. At the end of space it will be 268,000 miles from Earth.
This flight is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send astronauts to the surface of the moon in the coming years and establish a presence in lunar orbit. It is also a crucial step towards one day achieving the ultimate goal of an agent putting boots on Mars.
The Orion capsule atop NASA’s mega moon rocket, the Space Launch System (or SLS). Plagued by the cost of the plague and the many delays, some were skeptical if the SLS would ever get off the ground. Last week Behemoth catapulted the Orion capsule into space and on its way to the moon.
With that flight, the rocket cemented itself as the most powerful rocket in operation to reach orbit, surpassing the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 70s by 15 percent. Sarafin described the launch as “eye-watering,” as the rocket, solid-state heather, crew, and Orion spacecraft have exceeded all expectations so far.
“Everyone in mission control is vagrant,” Judd Freiling, Artemis 1 flight director at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said during a news briefing. “You must be human; flight controllers are amazed by the great videos and images coming from Orion.’
Those images included some stunning views of Orion passing by the moon, and a shot of the moon’s south pole, where future Diana missions are expected to land. Orion also reflected views of Earth in the distance, appearing as a small blue marble against the blackness of space, as a tribute to Carl Sagan and the famous teacher of the color blue in the Voyager 1 image of space.
“We were like kids in candy, as soon as the pictures came in, they were smiling across the board,” Sarafin said. “This mission is a dream for many throughout the agency and it’s a tremendous day and a tremendous result.”
After completing its sweep past the Moon, Orion will head back to Earth, where it will enter the Pacific Ocean on December 11. Disembarkation, like the rest of the mission, is a practice run for future missions. the statue will bear As such, Orion is equipped with scientific instruments that will provide a wealth of data to help engineers understand how future astronaut flights will affect them. This includes a radio sensor and more.
“This flight isn’t just about flying hardware, it’s about being as safe as we can.” Sarafin said. “The safety of our astronauts is paramount.”
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