By the editor
LNASA’s Orion space capsule flew less than 130 kilometers from the moon’s surface on Monday, a spectacular maneuver that marks the start of its return to Earth for this first mission of the Artemis program.
By making this flyby so close to the surface, the probe took advantage of the Moon’s gravitational pull to propel itself along its return path.
Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes as it passed behind the far side of the Moon, where it was supposed to fly over the Apollo mission landing sites.
The essential thrust of the European Service Module’s main engine, which propels the capsule, lasted more than three minutes.
This was the last major move of the mission. The second began with the takeoff of NASA’s new Mega rocket on November 16, for a trip lasting a total of 25 and a half days.
Orion will now make only minor course corrections until it lands in the Pacific Ocean from the US city of San Diego at 5:40 pm GMT (6:40 pm HB) on Sunday, December 11. She will be recovered and taken aboard a US Navy ship.
During the mission, Orion spent about six days in a distant orbit around the moon.
A week ago, this new spacecraft broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, reaching 432,000 kilometers from our planet — further than the Apollo missions.
The capsule does not carry a passenger, and the purpose of this Artemis 1 mission is to verify that the vehicle is safe for future crews.
The main objective is to test the resistance of Orion’s heat shield — the largest ever built — as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at 40,000 km/h. It would have to withstand half the heat (2,800ºC) of the Sun’s surface.
Through the Artemis program, the Americans intend to establish a permanent presence on the Moon in preparation for a trip to Mars.
The Artemis 2 mission will take astronauts to the moon, without landing there yet. This honor will go to the crew of Artemis 3, who will be the first to land on the Moon’s South Pole. Officially, these missions will take place in 2024 and 2025 respectively.
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