The Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft is on its way to the Moon and is already sharing photos from its historic journey that will pave the way for humanity’s return to Earth’s natural satellite.
NASA’s Artemis 1 mission lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Wednesday (November 16), sending an uncrewed Orion capsule into the sky on a massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
Eight minutes after liftoff, the two stages of the SLS separated, and the rocket’s upper stage continued to lift Orion into Earth orbit. Ten minutes later, the European Space Agency (ESA), which provided the Orion Service Module, the technology component responsible for propulsion, navigation and habitability inside the spacecraft, confirmed that the spacecraft had successfully deployed its X-shaped solar array. .
Shortly thereafter, Orion transmitted back to Earth the first long-awaited images from cameras attached to the ends of its four 23-foot-long (7 meters) solar wings.
Related: NASA Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Operational Updates
“All four solar arrays deployed!” The ESA tweeted out how the action unfolds. “They can turn and rotate to follow the sun and power the @NASA_Orion spacecraft.”
The agency then shared three shots of Orion going to lunar orbit and back to show it’s ready for humans.
The first relatively low-resolution images of Orion show parts of the spacecraft. One photo shows the blue curve of the Earth in the background. The cameras are off-the-shelf commercial technology that has been “heavily modified for use in space,” according to a NASA statement.
When Orion took the pictures, it was still attached to the second stage of the SLS, which later propelled the capsule from Earth orbit to the Moon. Separation from the second stage occurred about an hour and 55 minutes after launch.
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ESA has shared several short videos of second stage separation, including one showing the second stage drifting off into the blackness of space.
“Can’t get enough of this second stage separation as the European Service Module fires its engines – the curvature of the Earth is highlighted by the sun in the background,” the ESA said in a tweet accompanying the video of the separation. .
Can’t get enough of this look at the second stage separation as the European Service Module fires up its engines and the Earth’s curvature is highlighted by the Sun in the background 👏 #ForwardToTheMoon pic.twitter.com/1al21lkJsBNovember 16, 2022
Orion will now take about six days to reach the Moon. It will then make its closest approach to the Moon, passing 60 miles (97 kilometers) from the Moon’s surface on Monday (November 21) before entering a deep orbit around the body.
Shortly thereafter, Orion would break the record for the furthest distance from Earth ever reached by a human spacecraft, surpassing the 248,654 miles (400,170 km) from home reached by NASA’s Apollo 13 spacecraft in April 1970. of the year. However, this spacecraft’s record was the result of an emergency operation after an onboard explosion forced the mission team to develop a rescue plan to bring the spacecraft home.
Orion will return to Earth on December 11, crashing into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
Although only two dummies, Helga and Zohar, are in the capsule during the test flight, the mission will pave the way for the first crewed flight. The Artemis 2 mission, expected to take place in 2024, will be the first since the last Apollo program mission in 1972 to return humans to the Moon. However, Artemis 2 will not land astronauts on the lunar surface. This will be the goal of Artemis 3, which could take place in 2025.
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