WATCH: First Orion pictures show Moon, Earth, Snoopy

The Orion Spacecraft has swept within 130 kilometres of the lunar surface and sent its first close-up pictures of the Moon back to Artemis mission control on Earth.

The uncrewed Artemis I mission launched last week as the first step to returning astronauts to the Moon over the course of the decade. That launch consisted of the new Space Launch System rocket, and the Orion spacecraft mounted upon it.

Orion is now travelling within the Moon’s sphere of influence – this means lunar gravity now primarily acts on the spacecraft instead of the Earth – and will enter distant retrograde orbit (DRO) around it on Friday.

Read more: Artemis I underway

When in DRO, Orion will orbit the lunar surface at high altitude and in the opposite direction to the Moon’s path around the Earth. This is a stable orbit that will reduce the fuel burn required to keep the ship circling or a longer period than previous Moon missions.

It’s an endurance test of the new spacecraft, which is poised to bring humans back into orbit from May 2024.

“The mission continues to proceed as we had planned, and the ground systems, our operations teams, and the Orion spacecraft continue to exceed expectations,” said Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin.

“We continue to learn along the way about this new, deep-space spacecraft.”

A camera mounted on one of Orion’s solar arrays has captured the first images of the Moon from an orbiting NASA spacecraft – the first in half a century.

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On flight day six of the Artemis I mission, Orion used its optical navigation camera to snap this black-and-white photo of the Moon. / Credit: NASA
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A portion of the far side of the Moon looms large just beyond the Orion spacecraft in this image taken on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission by a camera on the tip of one of Orion’s solar arrays. / Credit: NASA

As it sped away from Earth, Orion also captured ‘rear view’ images of the blue marble.

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This first high-resolution image, taken on the first day of the Artemis I mission, was captured by a camera on the tip of one of Orion’s solar arrays / Credit: NASA
On the second day of the 25. 5-day artemis i mission, orion used its optical navigation camera to snap black and white photos of planet earth. Orion uses the optical navigation camera to capture imagery of the earth and the moon at different phases and distances, providing an enhanced body of data to certify its effectiveness as a method for determining its position in space for future missions under differing lighting condition
On the second day of the 25.5-day Artemis I mission, Orion used its optical navigation camera to snap black and white photos of planet Earth / Credit: NASA

Footage of the core stage separation was also captured from mounted cameras.

Interim cryogenic propulsion stage separates from orion

Snoopy also appears to be doing well in zero gravity. The below picture shows the tiny Snoopy plush mascot – which was used as a zero gravity indicator, floating inside the Orion spacecraft.

Engineers activated the callisto payload, lockheed martin’s technology demonstration in collaboration with amazon and cisco. Callisto will test voice-activated and video technology that may assist future astronauts on deep space missions.
A ‘moonikin’ (left) strapped into a chair and NASA’s Snoopy mascot acting as a zero gravity indicator (right, background) / Credit: NASA

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