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NASA’s moon spacecraft sets new distance record

NASA’s Orion capsule has set a new distance record for a spacecraft designed to carry humans to space.

On Monday, the uncrewed spacecraft, which is currently in a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) around the moon, reached a point 268,553 miles beyond Earth — the furthest it will travel from our planet during the Artemis I mission. This also put it 43,051 miles from the moon as it sped through space at 1,674 mph.

Just a few days ago, the Orion broke the existing 248,655-mile record for the furthest distance from Earth traveled by a human-rated spacecraft, set by Apollo 13 in 1970.

The current mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 16 and is essentially a dry run for a crewed flight that will take the same path, currently scheduled for 2024.

NASA shared a stunning image on Monday showing part of the Orion spacecraft, with the moon and Earth in the far distance.

So far from home, farthest a spacecraft built for humans has ever travelled from our home planet. @NASA_Orion #Artemis-1 today at nearly 270,000 miles from #Earth 1/2 way through the mission timeline. Splashdown targeted for 11 Dec.

— Randy Bresnik (@AstroKomrade) November 28, 2022

DRO offers a highly stable orbit for which little fuel is required, giving NASA ample time to fully test Orion’s systems in an environment far from Earth. In its closest approach last week, the spacecraft came within just 80 miles of the lunar surface.

NASA used its new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to put the Orion into space. Packing 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, the SLS is the most powerful space vehicle ever to have launched.

The space agency said recently that the performance of the Orion spacecraft has “exceeded expectations.” If the mission continues to proceed according to plan, the capsule will splash down off the coast of California on December 11.

NASA will then be able to begin planning in earnest for the crewed Artemis II mission, and also the highly anticipated Artemis III mission, which is aiming to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. There are also plans to build a moon base to enable astronauts to spend extended periods living and working on our celestial neighbor, similar to how astronauts stay aboard the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit today.

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Trevor Mogg
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