NASA’s Orion capsule leaves the moon

NASA’s Orion capsule leaves the moon

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The historic Artemis I mission, which is sending an unmanned spacecraft on an unprecedented journey around the Moon, is now in the final stretch of its historic journey.

Orion, as NASA’s new space capsule is called, made another flyby of the moon’s surface Monday morning, capturing views of notable lunar sites, including a pair. Apollo landing sites. The spacecraft then passed just 80 miles (128.7 kilometers) above the lunar surface, its second close flyover of the moon

After that, Orion fired its main engine for about three and a half minutes, the longest burn of its journey so far. The engine burnout put the capsule on its final journey home, beginning the final leg of its 25-and-a-half-day journey.

The Artemis I mission lifted off on November 16, when NASA’s harassed i long delayed The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launched 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 20th century moon landings, by 15%.

Orion separated from the rocket after reaching space and has since made a trip around the Moon. About a week ago, the capsule entered what’s called a “far retrograde orbit” around the moon, allowing it to orbit more than 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) beyond the moon’s far side . This is farther than any spaceship designed to transport humans has ever flown.

The spacecraft is now ready to cross the 238,900-mile (384,400-kilometer) gap between the Moon and Earth. It is expected to re-enter 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 one heat shield.

On re-entry, 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 dissipate as the capsule crashes back into Earth’s dense inner atmosphere and then releases its parachutes to further slow its descent before splashing into the Pacific Ocean.

In total, the Orion capsule will have traveled more than 1.3 million miles into space.

NASA has been preparing for this mission for more than a decade. Upon successful completion, the space agency will look to choose a crew to fly the Artemis II mission, which could lift off in 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.

This could pave the way in turn for the Artemis III mission, which is it is currently slated for release in 2025 — and hopes to put 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 performance of the Orion spacecraft has been “exceptional,” Howard Hu, the Orion program manager, told reporters last week.

The space agency had to work out 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 called the mission a resounding success so far.

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