Science

NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its way to begin a flyby of the moon on November 21

NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its way to begin a flyby of the moon on November 21

The Orion crew vehicle exceeds expectations on its way to the moon. NASA provided an update on Artemis 1 after the mission successful launch early Wednesday morning. “Orion has been great so far,” Vehicle Integration Manager Jim Geffre said during a NASA press briefing on Friday. “All systems exceed expectations from a performance standpoint.”

Artemis 1 seeks to confirm that a crew vehicle can safely carry human astronauts to Earth’s natural satellite. This trip marks Orion’s first trip outside the orbit of our planet. In 2014, the spacecraft completed a test flight around the Earth in two orbits. A successful flight would pave the way for a manned mission to the Moon and ultimately NASA’s first manned lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The agency expects Artemis 1 to reach the moon on November 21. At that point, the spacecraft will perform the first of four main engine burns that NASA has planned for the mission. At times, Orion will fly just over 81 miles (130 kilometers) above the surface of the Moon. “We’re going to go over some of the Apollo landing sites,” flight director Jeff Radigan said. Four days later, NASA plans to perform a second launch to put Orion into a distant orbit around the moon before finally setting the spacecraft on its return path to Earth. If all goes according to plan, Orion will land in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.

Orion’s first successes are welcome after problems NASA encountered with its Space Launch System rocket. The space agency was forced to repeatedly postpone the launch of Artemis 1 due to engine problems, hydrogen fuel leak and hurricane force winds. Early Wednesday morning, it appeared the agency would be forced to delay the mission again after the SLS ground team discovered a leak in one of the rocket’s launch tower fuel lines. However, after NASA personnel tightened some screws, the SLS took off, creating a dazzling nighttime display.

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