NASA's Orion capsule makes its closest approach to moon
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[December 06, 2022]
By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) -The uncrewed Orion capsule of NASA's Artemis I mission sailed
within 80 miles (130 km) of the lunar surface on Monday, achieving the
closest approach to the moon for a spacecraft built to carry humans
since Apollo 17 flew half a century ago.
The capsule's lunar flyby, on the return leg of its debut voyage, came a
week after Orion reached its farthest point in space, nearly 270,000
miles from Earth while midway through its 25-day mission, the U.S. space
agency said on its website.
Orion passed about 79 miles above the lunar surface on Monday as the
spacecraft fired its thrusters for a "powered flyby burn," designed to
change the vehicle's velocity and set it on course for its flight back
NASA said the 3-1/2-minute burn would mark the last major spaceflight
maneuver for Orion before it was due to parachute into the sea and
splash down on Dec. 11.
The last time a spacecraft designed for human travel came as close to
the moon as Orion was the final mission of the Apollo program, Apollo
17, which carried Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt to the lunar surface
50 years ago this month. They were the last of 12 NASA astronauts who
walked on the moon during a total of six Apollo missions from 1969 to
Although Orion has no astronauts aboard - just a simulated crew of three
mannequins - it flew farther than any previous "crew-class" spacecraft
on the 13th day of its mission. It reached a point 268,563 miles from
Earth, nearly 20,000 miles beyond the record distance set by the crew of
Apollo 13 in 1970, which aborted its lunar landing and returned to Earth
after a nearly catastrophic mechanical failure.
The much-delayed and highly anticipated launch of Orion last month
kicked off Apollo's successor program Artemis, aimed at returning
astronauts to the lunar surface this decade and establishing a
sustainable base there as a stepping stone to future human exploration
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NASA's next-generation moon rocket, the
Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion crew capsule, lifts
off from launch complex 39-B on the unmanned Artemis 1 mission to
the moon, seen from Sebastian, Florida, U.S. November 16, 2022.
REUTERS/Joe Rimkus Jr./File Photo
If the mission succeeds, a crewed Artemis II flight around the moon
and back could come as early as 2024, followed within a few years by
the program's first lunar landing of astronauts with Artemis III.
Sending astronauts to Mars is expected to take at least another
decade and a half to achieve.
"We couldn't be more pleased about how the spacecraft has been
performing really beyond all our expectations," Debbie Korth, deputy
manager for NASA's Orion program, told reporters in a news briefing
Orion was carried to space atop NASA's towering, next-generation
Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which blasted off on Nov. 16 from
NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The mission marked the first flight of the combined SLS rocket and
the Orion capsule, built by Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp,
respectively, under contract with NASA.
The chief objective of Orion's inaugural flight is to test the
durability of its heat shield as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere at
24,500 miles per hour, much faster than spacecraft returning from
the International Space Station.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bradley
Perrett & Simon Cameron-Moore)
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