After its closest approach to the Moon, the Orion capsule begins its return to Earth

After its closest approach to the Moon, the Orion capsule begins its return to Earth

NASA’s Orion space capsule completed a flyby of the moon less than 130 kilometers from its surface on Monday, a spectacular maneuver that marks the start of the journey back to Earth for this first mission of the Artemis program.

• Read more: Never-before-seen lunar surface in new images

• Read more: NASA’s new mega-rocket heads to Lu for first time

By making this flyby so close to the surface, the spacecraft used the Moon’s gravity to propel itself on its return path.

Communication with the capsule was interrupted 30 minutes after passing the far side of the moon. The essential thrust of the European Service Module’s main engine, which propels the capsule, lasted for more than three minutes.

“We couldn’t be happier with the ship’s performance,” said Orion Vice President Debbie Korth.


“We had to pause and see: Wow, we’re saying goodbye to the moon,” he said during an emergency briefing, in front of the amazing images broadcast live as soon as communications were restored.

This is the last major maneuver of the mission. The latter begins with the November 16 launch of NASA’s new Mega rocket, which will last a total of 25 and a half days.

Orion will now make minor course corrections until it lands in the Pacific Ocean from the US city of San Diego at 12:40pm on Sunday, December 11. Its descent would be slowed by a series of 11 parachutes, then it would be recovered and loaded aboard a US Navy ship.

During the trip, Orion spent about six days in a telepathic orbit around the moon.

A week ago, the new spacecraft broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, 432,000 km from our planet — further than the Apollo missions.

Once back on Earth, the capsule will have traveled a total of more than 2.2 million kilometers, said mission manager Mike Sarafin.

The capsule does not carry passengers, and the purpose of this Artemis 1 mission is to verify that the vehicle is safe for future crew members.

The main objective is to test the resistance of Orion’s heat shield as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at 40,000 km/h. It can withstand temperatures half as hot as the Sun’s surface (2,800°C).

With the Artemis project, the Americans want to establish a permanent presence on the Moon in order to prepare for a mission to Mars.

The Artemis 2 mission will take astronauts to the Moon, but not land there. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, the first to land on the Moon’s South Pole. Officially, these works are scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025 respectively.

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