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The NASA capsule flew over the moon and took the last big step before entering lunar orbit


NASA's Orion capsule. (NASA TV screenshot)
NASA’s Orion capsule. (NASA TV screenshot)

NASA‘s Orion capsule reached the moon on Monday (Nov. 21), hovering on the far side of the moon and skimming the lunar surface on its way to a record-breaking orbit, equipped with a dummy for test purposes.

It was the first visit to the moon by a capsule since NASA‘s Apollo program 50 years ago, and a huge milestone in the $4.1 billion test flight that began last Wednesday.

According to flight director Judd Frieling, video of the moon and pale blue planet getting closer to us more than 230,000 miles (370,000 kilometers) made crews at the Johnson Space Center in Houston “dizzy.” The Johnson Space Center is home to Mission Control. Even the flight controllers there themselves expressed “absolute shock.”

“Everyone was smiling,” said Howard Hu, Orion project manager.

As the Orion capsule approached the moon at a close 81-mile (130-kilometer) close-in, the crew module and its three connected dummies connected to the lines were far from the moon. Due to a half-hour communications outage, flight controllers in Houston didn’t know that the critical engine was firing smoothly until the capsule emerged from behind the moon. The capsule’s camera sent back a picture of Earth: a small blue dot surrounded by black.

NASA said the capsule accelerated well over 5,000 mph (8,000 km/h) as radio contact was restored. Less than an hour later, Orion soared over the Tranquility Base, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969. Since the flight was in the dark, there were no photos of the scene, but managers promised to try to take pictures on the return flyover two weeks later.

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Orion needs to catapult around the Moon to reach enough speed into a vast, unbalanced lunar orbit. Another engine ignition will place the capsule in that orbit on Friday.

This coming weekend, Orion will break the distance record for a spacecraft NASA designed for astronauts — nearly 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) from Earth, a distance set by Apollo-13 in 1970. The Orion capsule will continue its advance, reaching its maximum distance from Earth next Monday, approaching 270,000 miles (433,000 kilometers).

Before returning home, the capsule will stay in lunar orbit for nearly a week. It is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.

Orion does not have a lunar lander; The landing will not take place until NASA astronauts try to land on the moon using the SpaceX Starship in 2025. Prior to that, astronauts will fly around the moon as early as 2024 in Orion.

Mission manager Mike Sarafin is pleased with the mission’s progress, giving the flight a “cautiously optimistic A-plus” so far.

Salavin told reporters that the Space Launch System rocket — the most powerful rocket NASA has ever had — performed brilliantly on its debut. He said the teams were working on two issues that needed to be worked around: one involving the navigation star tracker and the other involving the power system.

However, the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket caused more damage than expected at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. The force of the liftoff thrust from 8.8 million pounds (4 million kilograms) was so great that it tore the elevator’s blast doors, rendering it unusable.

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Salavin said the damage to the launch pad will be repaired in a significant amount of time before the next launch.

(This article is based on an Associated Press report.) )

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