NASA’s Orion spacecraft makes its closest approach to the moon as part of Artemis mission | CNN


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NASA’s Orion spacecraft passed about 80 miles (130 kilometers) above the lunar surface in the early hours of Monday, a monumental moment in the mission designed to test the US space agency’s ability to one day return astronauts to the moon.

After its lunar flyby, the spacecraft — which is designed to fly astronauts but is carrying only inanimate, scientific payloads for its first mission — is expected to travel more than 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon, the furthest a spacecraft intended to carry humans has ever traveled.

It’s all part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to eventually establish a lunar outpost that can permanently host astronauts for the first time in history, in the hopes of one day paving a route to Mars.

This mission launched last Wednesday morning, when NASA’s beleaguered and long-delayed Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket vaulted the Orion capsule to space, cementing the rocket as the most powerful operational launch vehicle ever built. The SLS rocket’s thrust exceeded that of the Saturn V rocket, which powered the 20th-century moon landings, by 15%.

Now, Orion is on a 25-and-a-half day journey to circumnavigate the moon.

Monday’s flyby of the lunar surface will be the closest that the Orion capsule comes to the moon before it enters a “distant retrograde orbit,” meaning it will circle the moon in the opposite direction from which the moon travels around Earth.

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