Orion flies far beyond the Moon, instantly returning an iconic photo
NASA’s Orion spacecraft reached the farthest point in its journey from Earth on Monday, a distance of more than 275,000 miles (430,000 km) from humanity’s home world. That’s nearly double the distance between Earth and the Moon, and farther than the Apollo spacecraft traveled during NASA’s lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
From that perspective, on Monday, a camera attached to the solar panels aboard the Orion Service Module photos taken on the Moon and slightly beyond the Earth. These were beautiful, lonely and emotional images.
“The images were crazy,” said Artemis I mission lead flight director Rick LaBrod. “It’s really hard to articulate what it feels like. It’s really amazing to be here and see it.”
LaBrode spoke during a news conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he and other NASA officials provided an update on the progress of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft test mission. This uncrewed test flight was a precursor to manned missions later that decade, including the Artemis III moon landing.
After completing a successful launch, mission manager Mike Sarafin said the agency now has full confidence the Space Launch System rocket. “The missile is proven,” he said.
Of course, Orion still has work to do. Its mission will not be complete until the spacecraft maneuvers back around the moon, returns to Earth, survives atmospheric re-entry, falls into the ocean and is recovered off the coast near San Diego, California. This should happen on December 11th.
However, the mission went so well that NASA decided to add objectives, such as firing different thrusters for longer than intended, to test their effectiveness. This work will further increase NASA’s confidence in the Orion capsule and Propulsion Service Module provided by the European Space Agency.
Overall, 31 of the 124 primary objectives of the Artemis I mission have been accomplished, Sarafin said. Many of them relate to the operation of the launch vehicle. Of the remaining goals, half are in the process of being implemented, and the other half are yet to be implemented. Most of these are related to landing back on Earth, such as the parachute deployment system.
NASA engineers are understandably thrilled with Artemis I’s performance so far. It was a long, bumpy and expensive development road to achieve this mission with the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. But once the vehicles began flying, their performance met all the space agency’s expectations and hopes, boosting confidence in the future of the Artemis lunar exploration program.