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Orion enters lunar orbit, which will allow it to set a distance record

Orion enters lunar orbit, which will allow it to set a distance record

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Ten days after launched from the Kennedy Space CenterNASA’s Orion spacecraft on Friday entered a distant orbit around the moon, completing another key milestone in a mission that space agency officials say is going extremely well so far.

Orion’s thrusters fired at 4:52 p.m. ET for 1½ minutes, putting the craft into orbit about 40,000 to 50,000 miles above the lunar surface. This orbit will put Orion on track to break the record for the longest distance from Earth traveled by a “spacecraft designed to carry humans into deep space and return safely to Earth.” The current record of 248,655 miles was set by Apollo 13 in 1970, NASA said in a statement.

Orion should surpass that at 7:42 a.m. ET on Saturday. The spacecraft is expected to reach its maximum distance of more than 270,000 miles from Earth at 4:13 p.m. ET on Monday, NASA said.

The distant orbit, which requires little fuel to sustain, will allow Orion to test its systems to see how the vehicle performs. However, the orbit is so vast that the craft will only complete about half an orbit in six days before beginning its return flight to Earth.

Flight without astronauts on board is the first step NASA’s Artemis programwhich seeks to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Using cameras mounted on the outside of the spacecraft, Orion was emitting dramatic images and live video of his journey. including spectacular images of Earth seen hanging in the distance, more than 200,000 miles away, in the vast, inky blackness of space.

If the current mission, known as Artemis I, goes well, NASA plans a second flight, this time with astronauts on board, as soon as 2024. That mission, known as Artemis II, will also orbit the moon with a manned landing to come after that .

“The mission is proceeding as planned, and the ground systems, our operations teams and the Orion spacecraft continue to exceed expectations,” Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis I mission manager, said this week. “And we continue to learn along the way for this new deep spacecraft.”

He said Space Launch System rocket, even more powerful than the Apollo-era Saturn V, performed so well that the results were “eye-watering.” However, its massive thrust caused some damage to the mobile launch tower, including blowing up the tower’s elevator doors. But overall, “the structure itself held up well,” Sarafin said.

After Orion completes half a lap around the moon, it will shoot around the moon towards home.

One of the main tests will come when the spacecraft reenters Earth’s atmosphere, traveling at about 25,000 mph. Friction with the condensing air will result in temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The spacecraft is expected to land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on December 11.

Although there are no real astronauts aboard the Artemis I mission, there is a dummy named Moonikin Campos who rides in the Orion spacecraft’s command seat. It is equipped with a suit and sensors to provide feedback about what the journey will be like for future astronauts.

The chair has two sensors to record acceleration and vibration. The suit has sensors to register radiation levels.

The name “Moonikin” was chosen through a public competition. Campos was chosen in honor of Arthur Fieldsa former NASA engineer who played a key role during the recovery of the The Apollo 13 spacecraft after the mission failed.

Two mannequin torsos also ride. Called Zohar and Helga, they are made of materials that NASA says “mimic the human bones, soft tissues and organs of an elderly woman.” (Women are thought to be more sensitive to radiation exposure than men.)

They also have sensors to measure radiation. Zohar has a radiation vest, but Helga doesn’t.

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