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NASA’s Orion spacecraft is set to begin a lunar flyby on November 21

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is set to begin a lunar flyby 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 is performing great so far,” said Vehicle Integration Manager Jim Geffer during a NASA press conference held on Friday. “All systems exceed expectations in terms of performance.”

Artemis 1 aims to confirm that the crew vehicle can safely carry human astronauts to Earth’s natural satellite. The trip marks Orion’s first trip outside our planet’s orbit. In 2014, the spacecraft performed a two-orbit test flight around the Earth. A successful flight would pave the way for a manned mission to the moon and possibly 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 major engine burns that NASA has planned for the mission. At times, Orion will fly just over 81 miles (130 kilometers) above the lunar surface. “We’re going to go over some of the Apollo landing sites,” said Flight Director Jeff Radigan. Four days later, NASA plans to perform a second burn to put Orion into a distant orbit around the moon before finally setting the spacecraft on a return trajectory to Earth. If all goes according to plan, Orion will land in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.

Orion’s early successes are welcome after the problems NASA encountered with its Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. The space agency was forced to repeatedly delay the launch of Artemis 1 due to engine problems, hydrogen fuel leak and hurricane 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 bolts, the SLS lifted off, creating a dazzling nighttime display.

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