NASA has released a selfie taken by the Orion capsule and close-up photos of the moon’s crater-scarred landscape as the spacecraft pursues the Artemis 1 mission, a 25-and-a-half-day journey that will take it more than 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon.
Orion’s latest selfie – taken on Wednesday, the eighth day of the mission, by a camera on one of the capsule’s solar panels – reveals the spacecraft giving angles with a bit of the moon visible in the background. The close-up photos were taken Monday as Orion moved closest to the moon, passing about 80 miles (129 kilometers) above the lunar surface.
If Orion completes its journey beyond the moon and returns to Earth, it will be the farthest a spacecraft meant to carry humans has ever travelled. For now, the capsule only carries inanimate scientific payloads.
Orion is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to eventually establish a lunar outpost that can permanently house astronauts for the first time in history, in hopes of one day opening a route to Mars.
The Artemis I mission launched on November 16, when NASA’s beleaguered and long-delayed Space Launch System, or SLS, blasted the Orion capsule into space, cementing the rocket as the most powerful operational launch vehicle ever built. .
As of Thursday afternoon, the capsule was 222,993 miles (358,972 kilometers) from Earth and 55,819 miles (89,831 kilometers) from the Moon, speeding at just over 2,600 miles per hour, according to NASA .
Orion is now about a day away from entering a “distant retrograde orbit” around our nearest neighbor – distant, as it will be at a very high altitude above the lunar surface, and retrograde, as it will do the circumference of the moon in the opposite direction from which the moon revolves around the Earth.
The path is intended to “stress test” the Orion capsule, as Michael Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, said last week.
According to NASA’s Artemis blog, the agency’s television coverage of the insertion burn in far retrograde orbit is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET Friday, and the burn is expected to occur at 4:52 p.m. ET.
After circling the moon, the Orion capsule is expected to return to Earth and make a soft landing in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.