Miami, Dec 4 – After leaving its “distant retrograde lunar orbit” and on its way back to Earth, the Orion spacecraft, from the Artemis I mission, re-entered the lunar sphere of influence, turning the Moon in the main gravitational force acting on it, NASA reported.
Orion began its 19th flight day on Sunday of a 25-day unmanned mission to explore the Moon using the Artemis program and then send astronauts.
The capsule, which carries three mannequins on board and is sending photographs and videos in real time to Earth, prepares for a final flyby of the Moon on Monday before returning.
On Monday, Orion will fly by the Moon at a distance of 79 miles (127 km), in what will be its last approach maneuver to head for a splashdown off the coast of southern California on December 11.
The entry into the lunar sphere occurred on Saturday afternoon when the spacecraft was about 39,993 miles (64,362 km) from the surface of the Moon and 221,630 miles (356,678 km) from Earth, the mission blog detailed.
Orion was without communication with NASA’s Deep Space Network for approximately 4 and a half hours yesterday while “ground stations were reconfigured,” but automated commands guided the spacecraft during that time, the US agency reported.
The spacecraft will leave the lunar sphere of influence for the last time next Tuesday, NASA added.
On Monday, November 28, Orion reached the maximum distance achieved by any spacecraft from Earth: 434,522 kilometers (270,000 miles), thus surpassing the record distance of Apollo 13.
The capsule, which was traveling at 5,102 mph (8,200 km/hour), thus broke the record for the farthest distance traveled from Earth by any spacecraft designed to be crewed by humans, according to NASA.
The general objective of the Artemis program is to establish a base on the Moon as a previous step to reach Mars in the future.
To do this, after Artemis I, NASA will launch Artemis II into lunar orbit in 2024, with a crew, and the takeoff of Artemis III is expected for 2025, a mission in which astronauts, including a woman, would touch the ground of the satelite.
NASA had to delay the departure of the mission four times, twice for technical reasons and another two for meteorological reasons.
Finally, on November 16, the SLS, the most powerful and largest of all NASA rockets, with a height greater than a 30-story building (322 feet or 98 meters), lifted off from Florida propelling the Orion.