HOUSTON, United States – NASA's Artemis I moon mission made a monumental achievement on Monday, with the Orion space capsule passing about 80 miles (130 kilometers) above the lunar surface.
"This orbit is different than the orbit done during the Apollo program, in which the spacecraft and its crew orbited much closer to the lunar surface in a more circular fashion," NASA's Sandra Jones said during the livestream of Orion's flyby.
"Distant retrograde orbit is important because it helps us to learn about how a spacecraft functions in a deep space environment."
The flyby took place at 7:44 a.m. Eastern Time and the spacecraft completed an engine burn required to continue its mission around the moon.
"Shortly after the burn, Orion passed 81 miles (130 kilometers) above the Moon, travelling at 5,102 mph (8210 kph)," according to the US space agency's blog. "At the time of the lunar flyby, Orion was more than 230,000 miles (370,149 kilometers) from Earth."
The unmanned Artemis I mission is a 25-day journey around the moon and back to test NASA's ability to one-day return astronauts there.
Orion is expected to travel more than 40,000 miles (64,373 kilometers) beyond the far side of the moon, the furthest a spacecraft intended to carry humans has ever traveled.
After months of technical and weather-related delays, Artemis I finally blasted off last Wednesday and is completing its mission checklist as planned, remaining in its current orbit around the moon for about a week to test spacecraft systems.
"Orion’s greatest distance from the Moon will be on Nov. 25 at 3:53 p.m. CST at more than 57,250 miles (92,134 kilometers)," said NASA. "Orion’s greatest distance from the Earth will be Nov. 28 at 3:05 p.m. CST at more than 268,500 miles (432,108 kilometers).
The ultimate goal of the Artemis program is to eventually establish a lunar outpost that can permanently host astronauts for the first time in history. If that part of the program is successful, NASA hopes it will one day pave the route for a mission to Mars.
After completing its nearly month-long mission, Orion will splashdown on Dec. 11 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
NASA will then start gearing up for Artemis II, which will send astronauts around the moon in 2024.
Artemis III is expected to send a crew to the moon In 2025 near the lunar south pole, the site of NASA's envisioned research base.
If successful, Artemis III will be the first crewed lunar landing since the final Apollo mission in 1972, and the first ever to put a woman and a person of color on the moon. (Anadolu)