NASA’s Orion capsule cruised past the lunar surface early Monday on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission. The flyby is a monumental achievement in the mission designed to test the space agency’s ability to return astronauts to the moon.
Orion passed the moon at approximately 7:59 A.M. EST this morning. The spacecraft traveled about 81 miles (130 km) above the Moon at a speed of 5,102 MPH (8,211 KM/H). Following this flyby, Orion will travel more than 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon. This would mark the furthest a spacecraft intended to carry humans has ever traveled. NASA’s Artemis program aims to eventually establish a lunar outpost that can permanently host astronauts for the first time in history. NASA also hopes this assignment will one day pave a route to Mars.
In the immediate future, the next phase of the mission will take place on Friday when Orion inserts itself into distant retrograde orbit. A distant retrograde orbit will position the spacecraft at a high altitude from the moon, traveling in the opposite direction of the moon rotating around Earth. Scientists favor a DRO because the gravitational pull between Earth and the moon creates stability. This allows Orion to stay on course while decreasing the amount of fuel needed to operate. The spacecraft will stay in DRO for roughly a week in order to “stress test” the system before it journeys back to Earth. NASA expects Orion to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11 off the coast of San Diego.