Artemis I Orion spacecraft passes 81 miles above lunar surface

The Artemis I mission is making more history, passing just 81 miles above the moon Monday morning only five days after blastoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The lunar flyby put the Orion spacecraft at more than 230,000 miles from Earth, NASA said. It started with an autonomous firing of engines from the spacecraft’s European Service Module at 7:44 a.m. EST, which lasted 2.5 minutes, putting the spacecraft and service module behind the moon and out of communications with ground control operations.

The flyby burn of engines is the first of two maneuvers that will allow the spacecraft to enter a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. An insertion burn will occur on Friday. The distant retrograde will take Orion 40,000 miles past the moon before a return to Earth, mean it will reach more than 268,500 miles from Earth on Nov. 28.

At that distance of exactly 268,552 miles, Orion will have reached farther than any spaceship designed for human flight has flown. It breaks the record set by Apollo 13 more than 50 years ago.

When the capsule emerged from the far side of the moon, it beamed back an image of Earth.

The mission thus far has been a success, according to NASA officials. "I'd give it a cautiously optimistic A-plus," said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager, during a news conference late Monday. "I will rest well on December 11 after splashdown and recovery. I tend to stay focused and continue to do that as long as necessary."

Artemis I is an uncrewed test mission that will provide insights for a crewed mission as early as 2024 and an Artemis III mission as early as 2025 that will land astronauts on the lunar surface.

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