NASA’s Orion capsule circles the moon, capturing views that will make you dizzy

A view captured by a camera on one of Orion’s solar panel wings shows the Earth setting below the moon’s horizon. A portion of the Orion capsule is in the left foreground. (NASA photo)

NASA’s Orion capsule circled the moon today, marking a crucial milestone in a week-long Artemis 1 mission that is paving the way for sending astronauts to the lunar surface.

As the unmanned spacecraft maneuvered for its outbound motorized flyby, it sent back a spectacular series of images which showed the moon looming larger in its metaphorical windshield and a tiny blue Earth setting below the lunar horizon.

Artemis 1 flight director Judd Frieling said flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center felt “lightheaded” when they saw the images descend.

“They’re just happy that all the hard work and dedication they’ve put in for years — many, many, many years — is really paying off,” she told reporters.

Mission manager Mike Sarafin said the flight proceeded without “concerns” other than a few problems with its power system and star trackers.

The moon appears larger in a series of images sent from the Orion capsule.  The final image of this set shows Earth in the distant background, more than 230,000 miles away.  (NASA photo)

The moon appears larger in a series of images sent from the Orion capsule. The final image of this set shows Earth in the distant background, more than 230,000 miles away. (NASA photo)

Today’s 2.5-minute engine burn, which occurred five days after the launch of Artemis 1, brought Orion within 81 miles of the moon. At the time of closest approach, the spacecraft hurtled across the lunar surface at a speed of more than 5,000 mph. Orion was out of contact with Earth for about 34 minutes as it flew behind the moon.

Another maneuver, scheduled for Friday, will put the spacecraft into what’s known as a distant retrograde orbit, extending 40,000 miles beyond the moon. Such an orbit would be the furthest from Earth that a spacecraft designed to carry humans has crossed during its mission. (Some commentators have noted that the Apollo 10 lunar ascent module, which was jettisoned in 1969 and is now in orbit around the sun, it is further away.)

Orion was in darkness during today’s closest approach, so there was no chance of catching views of the Apollo landing sites as it flew over. But Sarafin has promised that NASA will release more fantastic images, once they are downloaded from the spacecraft and cleared for distribution. NASA has also created a video streaming channel to feature live images of Artemis 1 when it becomes available.

The views could be even better when Orion makes another close lunar approach on Dec. 12. 5, during the maneuver for its return to Earth. That trajectory should send the spacecraft over the Apollo sites in daylight.

This uncrewed Artemis 1 mission is intended to test equipment and procedures that would be used in circa 2024 for the Artemis 2 mission, which would send a crew of astronauts around the moon. Artemis 2, in turn, would set the stage for a manned lunar landing, currently scheduled for late 2025. It would be the first such landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

An interior view of the Orion capsule shows a sensor-equipped dummy that has been dubbed

An interior view of the Orion capsule shows a sensor-equipped dummy that has been dubbed “Commander Moonikin Campos” sitting in the seat to the left. A zero-G gauge, inspired by Snoopy’s character from the “Peanuts” comic, floats to the lower right of the mannequin. The console for the experimental Alexa-like Callisto device is front and center.

Three mannequins are seated inside the Artemis 1 capsule, wired with sensors that monitor temperature, radiation exposure, and other factors during the flight.

The capsule also has an Alexa-style voice assistant, codenamed Callisto, created by Amazon in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and Cisco. During future deep space flights, something like Callisto could provide a conduit for information and video conferencing, as well as a sort of HAL company for crews who might lose real-time contact with people on Earth.

“We’ve had a couple of live technology evaluations of Callisto’s payload, and it’s performing very well across the board,” said Howard Hu, who is the Orion program manager at the Johnson Space Center. “We’re getting good visuals and good communications, thanks to Judd’s team allocating some bandwidth. Right now, based on those sessions, things are looking really good with that payload.

Orion is expected to sink in the Pacific Ocean on December 12th. 11, completing the Artemis 1 mission.

More from GeekWire:

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: