NASA spaceship slingshots around Moon, heads for Earth

    NASA's Orion spaceship made a close pass of the Moon and used a gravity assist to whip itself back towards Earth on Monday, marking the start of the return journey for the Artemis-1 mission.
    By: AFP
    | Updated on: Dec 06 2022, 14:15 IST
    In Pics: NASA set to return to the Moon with the Artemis 1 Mission
    Nasa
    1/5 According to NASA, Artemis I will be the first uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. The Orion capsule will carry various objects like Snoopy dog toy which will fly as a zero-gravity indicator in the capsule. A new version of Alexa called Callisto created by Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and Cisco will also be aboard the spacecraft. (REUTERS)
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    2/5 The Artemis Programme is NASA’s first attempt to send a manned mission to the Moon since the Apollo missions in 1972. Earlier this month, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said, “To all of us that gaze up at the Moon, dreaming of the day humankind returns to the lunar surface, folks, we're here. We are going back.” (REUTERS)
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    3/5 The rocket and the Orion spacecraft have already been rolled out onto the launchpad on August 16. Although the rollout was scheduled to happen today on August 18, NASA moved up the plans and rolled out the Orion spacecraft on top of NASA’s brand-new Space Launcher System. (REUTERS)
    NASA manikin
    4/5 When NASA launches the Artemis 1 mission using the Space Launcher System on August 29, the Orion spacecraft, although unmanned, will carry 3 manikins called Zohar, Helga and Campos to space as human stand-ins for various tests and studies. They will be retrofitted with a vast number of sensors to conduct tests regarding the spaceflight. (NASA)
    NASA
    5/5 ason Hutt, NASA lead for Orion Crew Systems Integration said, “It’s critical for us to get data from the Artemis I manikin to ensure all of the newly designed systems, coupled with an energy dampening system that the seats are mounted on, integrate together and provide the protection crew members will need in preparation for our first crewed mission on Artemis II.” (NASA)
    NASA Orion capsule
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    To return home, the NASA Orion capsule used the gravitational force of the Moon to give itself the acceleration to reach the Earth. (AFP)

    NASA's Orion spaceship made a close pass of the Moon and used a gravity assist to whip itself back towards Earth on Monday, marking the start of the return journey for the Artemis-1 mission.

    At its nearest point, the uncrewed capsule flew less than 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the surface, testing maneuvers that will be used during later Artemis missions that return humans to the rocky celestial body.

    Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes when it was behind the far side of the Moon -- an area more cratered than the near side and first seen by humans during the Apollo era, although they didn't land there.

    The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home.

    "We couldn't be more pleased about how the spacecraft is performing," Debbie Korth, Orion Program deputy manager, said later.

    As spectacular footage flashed on their screens once communication was restored, she told a news conference, "everybody in the room, we just kind of had to stop and pause, and just really look -- Wow, we're saying goodbye to the moon."

    Monday's was the last major maneuver of the mission, which began when NASA's mega Moon rocket SLS blasted off from Florida on November 16. From start to finish, the journey should last 25 and a half days.

    Orion will now make only slight course corrections until it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on Sunday, December 11 at 9:40 am local time (1740 GMT). It will then be recovered and hoisted aboard a US Navy ship.

    Earlier in the mission, Orion spent about six days in "distant retrograde orbit" around the Moon, meaning at high altitude and traveling opposite the direction the Moon revolves around Earth.

    A week ago, Orion broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, venturing 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) from our planet.

    Once it returns to Earth, Orion will have traveled more than 1.4 million miles, said Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager.

    Re-entry into Earth's atmosphere will present a harsh test for the spacecraft's heat shield, which will need to withstand temperatures of around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800degrees Celsius) -- or about half the surface of the Sun.

    Under the Artemis program -- named for the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology -- the United States is seeking to build a lasting presence on the Moon in preparation for an onward voyage to Mars.

    Artemis 2 will involve a crewed journey to the Moon, once again without landing.

    The first woman and next man are to land on the lunar south pole during Artemis 3, which is set for no sooner than 2025, though likely significantly later given timeline delays.

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    First Published Date: 06 Dec, 14:14 IST
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