NASA’s Orion spacecraft reached the farthest departure point on its journey from Earth on Monday, at a distance of more than 430,000 km from humanity’s homeworld. This is nearly twice the distance between Earth and the Moon and is further than the Apollo capsule traveled during NASA’s lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
From this vantage point, on Monday, a camera attached to solar panels aboard the Orion Service Module Photos taken of the Moon and, a little beyond, the Earth. They were lovely images, solitary and evocative.
“The images were insane,” said Artemis I mission lead flight director Rick LaBrode. “It’s really hard to articulate what the feeling is. It’s really amazing to be here and see that.”
LaBrode was speaking during a news conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he and other NASA officials provided an update on the progress of the mission to test the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. This uncrewed test flight is a precursor to crewed missions later this decade, including a lunar landing on the Artemis III mission.
After completing a successful launch, mission manager Mike Sarafin said the agency now has complete confidence in him. the space launch system rocket. “The rocket is proven,” she said.
Orion still has work to do, of course. Its mission will not be complete until the spacecraft maneuvers back around the Moon, returns to Earth, survives re-entry, falls into the ocean and is recovered off the coast near San Diego, California. That is scheduled to occur on December 11.
However, the mission is going so well that NASA has decided to add objectives, such as firing several boosters for longer than planned to verify their performance. This work will further increase NASA’s confidence in the Orion capsule and propulsion service module provided by the European Space Agency.
Overall, 31 of the 124 basic Artemis I mission objectives are complete, Sarafin said. Many of these pertain to launch vehicle performance. Of the remaining goals, half are in progress and half are yet to be completed. Most of these are related to landing on Earth, such as the parachute deployment system.
NASA engineers are understandably delighted with Artemis I’s performance so far. It was a long, bumpy, and expensive development road to get to this mission with the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. But once the vehicles began to fly, their performance met all the expectations and hopes of the space agency, increasing confidence in the future of the Artemis program to explore the Moon.
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