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NASA’s Orion capsule passed 80 miles (130 kilometers) above the lunar surface early Monday, a massive milestone in the mission designed to test the US space agency’s ability to one day return astronauts to the moon.
After flying over the Moon, Orion—designed to fly for astronauts but carrying only one Inanimate, scientific Its first mission payloads are expected to travel More than 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the Moon, it’s the farthest a spacecraft intended to carry humans has traveled.
It’s all part of NASA’s Artemis program, which ultimately aims to create a lunar base that can permanently host astronauts for the first time in history, with hopes of paving the way to Mars one day.
The Artemis I mission launched last Wednesday morning, when it was affiliated with NASA Trapped And the long overdue The Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket catapulted the Orion capsule into space, cementing the rocket as the most powerful operational launch vehicle ever built. The SLS rocket surpassed the thrust of the Saturn V rocket, which led to the moon landings in the 20th century, by 15%.
Right now, Orion is on a 25-and-a-half-day voyage to circumnavigate the Moon.
Monday’s flyby of the moon was the closest to the moon before the Orion capsule entered a “far retrograde orbit,” meaning it will orbit the moon in the opposite direction from which it was. The moon travels around the earth.
The trajectory is intended to “stress test” the Orion capsule, said Michael Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission Director, put it last week.
After spinning around the Moon, the Orion capsule is expected to return to Earth and make a soft landing in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th.
The target landing site is just off the coast of San Diego, and NASA recovery ships will be waiting nearby to ferry the spacecraft to safety, a training exercise for future missions involving astronauts. And this time they will also be looking to win some back Scientific devices on board that collected data to help NASA understand how astronauts will be affected by future flights.
Sarafin told reporters Friday that NASA has had to explore more than a dozen “funny objects” with the Orion capsule, but overall, the spacecraft is doing “really well.”
One of the problems that arose was related to the Orion star tracker, a system that uses a map of the universe to tell engineers on Earth how to orient the spacecraft. Some of the data reads weren’t coming back as expected, but NASA officials put that into the learning curve that comes with piloting a new spacecraft.
“We worked through it, and there was some great leadership by the Orion team,” Sarafin said.
“We had an understanding of the system going into the mission,” he added. “We had (predictions) – whether it’s how much power we’re going to use or how much fuel or how hot the car will be – and we don’t exactly match that. In most cases it does better.
“We’re seeing things that don’t quite match up with our expectations. And the team takes the time to go over that with a fine-tooth comb to make sure there isn’t something else that might be an underlying problem.”
Sarafin’s comments came before NASA made its final decision on Saturday to put the Orion spacecraft on a path to enter its distant lunar orbit.
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