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Orion has close encounter with moon before heading home

NASA has shared remarkable footage showing its Orion spacecraft passing over the lunar surface at an altitude of just 687 miles.

The flyby, which at one point took the uncrewed spacecraft to within 79 miles of the moon’s surface, took place on Monday, December 6, just over three weeks after the Orion left Earth on the Artemis I mission. The spacecraft made a similarly close approach to the lunar surface last month, too.

.@NASA_Orion is only 687 miles above the Moon. #Artemis

— NASA Artemis (@NASAArtemis) December 5, 2022

As the video commentary reveals, the footage of the lunar flyby was captured just ahead of an engine burn designed to set the spacecraft on a path for its homecoming later this week.

NASA official Jim Free later confirmed the success of the engine burn and shared a stunning photo showing the moon and a crescent Earth, as well as part of the Orion spacecraft.

Last fly-by complete! We’re coming home!@NASA_Orion flew about 79 miles above the lunar surface today, and returned this spectacular view. The spacecraft is now on a course for Earth and will splashdown on Dec. 11. Follow along:

— Jim Free (@JimFree) December 5, 2022

The Orion departed Earth on November 16 atop NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the most powerful rocket ever to have launched.

The Artemis I mission is designed to test the rocket and spaceship ahead of a crewed mission that will follow the same route as the current flight. It means several very lucky astronauts will one day be able to enjoy these same incredible views in person, while flying aboard the Orion spacecraft.

NASA’s Artemis program also includes a plan to build a permanent outpost on the moon where astronauts can live and work, similar to how they do on the International Space Station today. The moon could also be used as a steppingstone for the first crewed missions to Mars, which NASA says may take place in the 2030s.

So far, the Artemis I mission has exceeded expectations, with the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft performing impeccably. All eyes are now on the spacecraft’s homecoming on Sunday, December 11. If NASA can nail this final leg of the journey, the space agency will aim to launch the crewed Artemis II mission in 2024.

Curious to find out where the Orion is right now? This NASA website has you covered.

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