NASA capsule buzzes on the moon, the last big step before lunar orbit

NASA capsule buzzes on the moon, the last big step before lunar orbit
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida. (AP) — NASA’s Orion capsule landed on the moon Monday, spinning rapidly around the other side and whizzing across the lunar surface on its way to an unprecedented orbit with seated test dummies for astronauts.

It’s the first time a capsule has visited the moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago, and marks a big milestone in the $4.1 billion test flight that began last Wednesday.

Video of the looming moon and our pale blue planet more than 230,000 miles (370,000 kilometers) away left workers “in a daze” at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, home of Mission Control, according to the director of Judd Frieling flight. Even the flight controllers themselves were “absolutely amazed.”

“Just smiles across the board,” Orion program manager Howard Hu said.

The 81-mile (130-kilometer) close approach occurred when the crew capsule and its three wired dummies were on the far side of the moon. Due to a half-hour communication blackout, flight controllers in Houston did not know if the critical engine ignition went well until the capsule emerged from behind the moon. The capsule’s cameras sent back an image of Earth: a small blue dot surrounded by blackness.

The capsule accelerated well past 5,000 mph (8,000 kph) when it regained radio contact, NASA said. Less than an hour later, Orion rose over Tranquility AFB, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969. There were no photos of the site because the pass was dark, but managers promised to try to take photos on the flyby of Return. in two weeks.

Orion needed to slingshot around the moon to pick up enough speed to enter the wide, twisting lunar orbit. Another engine fire will place the capsule in that orbit on Friday.

Next weekend, Orion will break NASA’s distance record for a spacecraft designed for astronauts: almost 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) from Earth, set by Apollo 13 in 1970. And it will go on, reaching a maximum distance from Earth next Monday at nearly 270,000 miles (433,000 kilometers).

The capsule will spend about a week in lunar orbit before returning home. A splashdown in the Pacific is planned for December 2. eleven

Orion does not have a lunar lander; a landing won’t come until NASA astronauts attempt a lunar landing in 2025 with SpaceX’s Starship. Before that, astronauts will strap on Orion for a orbit around the moon starting in 2024.

Mission manager Mike Sarafin was delighted with the mission’s progress, giving it a “cautiously optimistic A-plus” thus far.

The Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA, performed extremely well on its debut, Sarafin told reporters. He said the teams are dealing with two issues that require workarounds: one involving navigation star trackers, the other the power system,

However, the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket caused more damage than expected on the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. The force of the 8.8 million pound (4 million kilograms) of liftoff thrust was so great that it tore off the elevator’s armored doors, rendering it unusable.

Sarafin said that the platform damage will be repaired in plenty of time before the next launch.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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