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NASA’s Orion spacecraft reaches far side of moon, completes first such attempt since 1972


NOVEMBER 21, 2022

This screen grab from NASA TV shows NASA’s Orion capsule, left, nearing the moon, right, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. At center is earth. (NASA via AP)

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – NASA’s Artemis I Orion spacecraft completed a powered flyby maneuver on the far side of the moon on Monday, bringing it just 81 miles above the surface at 7:57 a.m. ET, a move that hasn’t been attempted by a human-rated spacecraft since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The outbound powered flyby was the result of one of four positioning burns of Orion’s Orbital Maneuvering System engine planned during the 26-day Artemis I mission to the moon and back.

The mission, comprised of the crew and its three wired-up dummies, represents a huge milestone since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago. The $4.1 billion test flight began Wednesday.

Orion has spent about five days flying from Earth outbound to the moon. During Monday’s live stream NASA spokesperson Sandra Jones said the outbound powered flyby was necessary to bring Orion “close enough to the lunar surface to leverage the moon’s gravitational force and swing the spacecraft around the moon toward entry into distant retrograde orbit.”

During a half-hour communication blackout, flight controllers in Houston couldn’t confirm if the critical engine firing went well, until the capsule emerged from behind the moon. Orion then soared above Tranquility Base, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969.

The capsule’s cameras sent back a picture of the world.

“Our pale blue dot and its 8 billion human inhabitants now coming into view,” said Mission Control commentator Sandra Jones.

Orion set to shatter another NASA record

This coming weekend, NASA will attempt to break its distance record for a spacecraft designed for astronauts, set by Apollo 13 in 1970 at 250,000 miles from earth. Orion will spend close to a week in lunar orbit and will reach a maximum distance from Earth next Monday at nearly 270,000 miles.

The spacecraft is planned to return to earth via splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11.

When is the next lunar landing attempt?

Astronauts are set to take Orion around the moon by as early as 2024, and a lunar landing will be attempted in 2025 with SpaceX’s Starship because Orion has no lunar lander.

Courtesy/Source: This article originally appeared on Florida Today / AP