NASA's Orion capsule circles the moon, capturing views that will make you dizzy

NASA’s Orion capsule circles the moon, capturing views that will make you dizzy

A view captured by a camera on one of Orion's solar panel wings shows the Earth setting below the moon's horizon.  Part of the Orion capsule is in the left foreground.  (NASA picture)

A view captured by a camera on one of Orion’s solar panel wings shows the Earth setting below the moon’s horizon. Part of the Orion capsule is in the left foreground. (NASA picture)

NASA’s Orion capsule circled the moon today, marking a crucial milestone in a week-long Artemis 1 mission that is paving the way for sending astronauts to the lunar surface.

As the uncrewed spacecraft maneuvered for its outgoing powered flyby, it returned a spectacular image set which showed the larger moon in its metaphorical windshield and a tiny blue Earth setting below the lunar horizon.

Artemis 1 flight director Judd Frieling said flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center felt “giddified” when they saw the images drop.

“They’re just happy that all the hard work and dedication they’ve put in for years – many, many years – is really paying dividends,” he told reporters.

Mission director Mike Sarafin said the flight was “worry-free” other than some issues with its power system and star trackers.

The moon appears larger in a series of images sent back by the Orion capsule.  The final image in this set shows Earth in the distant background, over 230,000 miles away.  (NASA pictures)

The moon appears larger in a series of images sent back by the Orion capsule. The final image in this set shows Earth in the distant background, over 230,000 miles away. (NASA pictures)

Today’s 2.5-minute engine burn, which took place five days after the launch of Artemis 1, sent Orion as close to the moon as 81 miles. At the time of the closest approach, the spacecraft flew over the lunar surface at a speed of over 5,000 mph. Orion was out of contact with Earth for about 34 minutes as it flew behind the moon.

Another maneuver, scheduled for Friday, will put the spacecraft into what’s called a deep retrograde orbit, extending 40,000 miles past the moon. Such an orbit would be the farthest from Earth that a spacecraft designed to carry humans has traveled during its mission. (Some commentators have noted that the Apollo 10 lunar ascent module, which was jettisoned in 1969 and is now orbiting the sun, is further away.)

Orion was in darkness on the closest approach today, so there was no opportunity to capture views of the Apollo landing sites during its flyby. But Sarafin has promised that NASA will release more stunning images – once they are downloaded from the spacecraft and cleared for distribution. NASA has also set up a streaming video channel to showcase live footage of Artemis 1 when available.

The views could be even better when Orion makes another close lunar approach on December 5, during the return-to-Earth maneuver. This trajectory should send the spacecraft over the Apollo sites in broad daylight.

This uncrewed Artemis 1 mission is intended to test the equipment and procedures that would be used in around 2024 for the Artemis 2 mission, which would send a crew of astronauts around the moon. Artemis 2, in turn, would set the stage for a crewed lunar landing, currently scheduled for late 2025. It would be the first such landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

An interior view of the Orion capsule shows a sensor-equipped dummy that has been dubbed

An interior view of the Orion capsule shows a sensor-equipped dummy who has been dubbed “Commander Moonikin Campos” seated in the left seat. A zero-G indicator, inspired by the Snoopy character from the “Peanuts” comic book, floats on the bottom right of the mannequin. The console of the experimental Alexa-like Callisto device is in the foreground.

Three mannequins sit inside the Artemis 1 capsule, wired with sensors that monitor temperature, radiation exposure and other factors during the flight.

The capsule also has an Alexa-style voice assistant, named Callisto, which was created by Amazon in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and Cisco. In future deep space flights, something like Callisto could provide an information and video conferencing channel – as well as a kind of HAL-like companionship for crews who might lack real-time contact with people on the planet. Earth.

“We’ve had some live technology evaluations of the Callisto payload, and it’s performing very well across the board,” said Howard Hu, Orion program manager at Johnson Space Center. “We’re getting good visuals and good communications, thanks to Judd’s team allocating bandwidth. Right now, based on these sessions, things are looking great with this payload.

Orion is scheduled to dive into the Pacific Ocean on December 11, ending the Artemis 1 mission.

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