The Orion Spacecraft will complete its closest flyby of the Moon on December 5 local time (December 6, AEDT) as it prepares to return to Earth.
Launched into lunar orbit as part of the Artemis I mission, Orion will come as close as 127 kilometres of the lunar surface and perform a final fuel burn for a final boost – combined with the Moon’s gravity – to propel itself home.
It is currently cruising at a leisurely 5,000 kilometres per hour, about 358,000 kilometres from Earth.
If all goes to plan, this process will allow Orion to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 11, ending the first of three Artemis missions that will ultimately return humans to the Moon by the end of this decade.
NASA has used the uncrewed Artemis I mission to hone its understanding of onboard instruments and test Orion’s systems prior to the addition of astronauts in the Artemis II mission.
The spaceship will be recovered from the Pacific Ocean by the US Navy and NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program, both of which have just completed their final sea training.
More spectacular images from Artemis I
NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has released more images from the Orion spacecraft, including footage of the Launch Abort System’s separation from the spacecraft three minutes after lift off.
Cameras mounted on the solar array have also taken detailed imagery of the adjacent array overlooking the Moon while in distant retrograde orbit.
During Artemis II and III, astronauts will travel the furthest distance from Earth of any humans in history, thanks to the new Orion spacecraft. On day 13, the Orion spacecraft reached its furthest distance from Earth – over 432,000 kilometres!
This image shows the side profile of Artemis I looking back at the Moon and Earth.
And a spectacular eclipse of the two.