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The historic Artemis I mission, which is sending an uncrewed spacecraft on an unprecedented journey around the moon, is now in the home stretch of its historic journey.
Orion, as NASA’s new space capsule is called, made another pass across the moon’s surface Monday morning, capturing views of notable lunar sites, including a couple Apollo landing sites. The spacecraft then passed just 80 miles (128.7 kilometers) above the lunar surface, its second close flyby of the moon.
After that, Orion fired its main engine for about three and a half minutes, the longest burn conducted on its voyage thus far. The ignition of the engine put the capsule on its final journey home, beginning the last leg of its 25-and-a-half-day journey.
The Artemis I mission lifted off on November 16, when NASA beleaguered Y long overdue The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carried the Orion capsule into space, cementing its status as the most powerful operational launch vehicle ever built. The thrust of the SLS rocket surpassed that of the Saturn V rocket, which powered the moon landings of the 20th century. by 15%.
Orion separated from the rocket after reaching space and has been on a trip around the moon ever since. About a week ago, the capsule entered what is called a “distant retrograde orbit” around the moon, allowing it to rotate more than 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) past the far side of the moon. That is all farther than any spaceship designed to carry humans has ever flown.
The spacecraft is now ready to traverse the 238,900-mile (384,400-kilometer) gap between the Moon and Earth. It is expected to plunge back into Earth’s atmosphere on December 11, a process that will create enough pressure to heat its exterior to more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).
If the astronauts were on board, they would be protected by a heat shield.
Upon reentry, Orion will travel at 20,000 miles per hour (32,187 kilometers per hour), or more than 26 times the speed of sound. All that energy will be dispersed when the capsule crashes into Earth’s thick inner atmosphere and then releases its parachutes to further slow its descent before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
In total, the Orion capsule will have traveled more than that 1.3 million miles in space.
NASA has been preparing for this mission for more than a decade. Following its successful completion, the space agency will look to choose a crew to fly the Artemis II mission, which could take off as early as 2024. Artemis II will aim to send astronauts on a similar trajectory to Artemis I, flying around the moon. but without landing on its surface.
That could in turn pave the way for the Artemis III mission, which is Currently scheduled for a 2025 release – and is expected to land a woman and a person of color on the moon for the first time. It would also mark the first visit by humans to the lunar surface in half a century.
The Orion spacecraft’s performance has been “outstanding,” Howard Hu, Orion program manager, told reporters. In the past week.
The space agency had to fix some minor issues, including an unexpected one communications blackout that lasted almost an hour. But NASA officials said there have been no major problems and have so far credited the mission with a resounding success.