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.
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.
As it sped away from Earth, Orion also captured ‘rear view’ images of the blue marble.
Footage of the core stage separation was also captured from mounted cameras.
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.
Matthew Agius is a science writer for Cosmos Magazine.
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