NASA and the European Space Agency have released several new views of the Moon from the manned Orion spacecraft as it prepares to burn up its thrusters to reach a point in space a whopping 268,000 miles/432,000 kilometers from Earth .
After launch on November 15, 2022, after several delays, the capsule-like vehicle – reminiscent but much more advanced of the Apollo capsules deployed by NASA in the late 1960s and early 1970s – came to within just 130 kilometers of the Moon surfaced on November 21, 2022 while completing the first lunar flyby of its Artemis I mission.
Today it begins a distant moon retrograde orbit that will take it farther from Earth than any human-rated spacecraft has ever done — a journey into the unknown.
With 16 cameras on its X-shaped solar panel wings, the spacecraft — designed to carry up to four astronauts (although this first lunar mission is unmanned) — took both photos and video of itself as it approached our natural satellite.
Orion also captured a series of black-and-white images of craters on the Moon (as well as Earth) with its optical navigation camera. While these are beautiful images, they were taken to calibrate the cameras so Orion could navigate autonomously — something it could now do on future missions.
Orion’s X-shaped Solar Array (SAW) wings each have a wireless camera near the tip that can be aimed to inspect the spacecraft’s exterior, and three cameras mounted on the crew module.
The SAW cameras can be rotated to get different views of the spacecraft, hence the different perspectives – including some “selfies” with the moon as the background and Earth a quarter of a million miles away in the distance.
Revolving around Orion, this Artemis-1 mission will orbit the moon on a 2.1 million kilometer journey and return to Earth on Sunday 11 December 2022.
It is now on its way to its farthest point beyond the moon – 40,000 miles/64,000 kilometers – which it will reach next week before returning to the moon on its return journey.
In due course, expect images depicting Orion’s enormous distance from the Earth-Moon system, and – hopefully – a new “Earthrise” image of the foreground Moon and Earth behind as Orion makes its second close flyby.
The most famous “Earthrise” image was taken in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission. However, the first Earthrise image ever recorded was taken by the Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966.
Artemis I is the first of three Artemis missions on the schedule, with Artemis II scheduled to bring four crew members to the lunar surface in 2024 and Artemis III two astronauts — the first woman and the first person of color — in 2025 or later.
Orion launched on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the largest rocket built since the agency’s Saturn V “moon rocket” was last deployed in 1973. tall, the SLS is also a “moon rocket” showing off its 8.8 million pound (3.9 million kg) thrust as it lifted the Orion capsule into orbit.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.
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