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NASA Orion Capsule Makes Closest Approaches To Moon

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On Monday, #NASA’s #Orion spacecraft arrived on the Moon (November 21). It was only 81 miles away when passing close to Earth’s only satellite, even though it didn’t touch down on the Moon’s surface. The always-black far side of the Moon was being whirled around by Orion. The first spacecraft to visit the Moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago is this one. The Orion spacecraft is a major accomplishment for NASA.

The crew capsule, along with its three wired-up dummies, was on the far side of the moon during the close encounter that occurred within 81 miles (130 kilometers). Flight controllers in Houston could not learn whether the crucial engine firing went smoothly until the spacecraft came out from behind the moon, 232,000 miles (370,000 km) from Earth, due to a 30-minute contact outage.

“Our pale blue dot and its 8 billion human inhabitants now coming into view,” said Mission Control commentator Sandra Jones.

According to NASA, the capsule rocketed well above 5,000 mph (8,000 kph) when it made radio contact again. A little over an hour later, Orion sailed over Tranquility Base, the site of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s July 20, 1969 mission.

“This is one of those days that you’ve been thinking about and talking about for a long, long time,” flight director Zeb Scoville said.

Orion needed to accelerate quickly enough to enter the wide, lopsided lunar orbit, so it had to slingshot around the moon. To ascertain if the engine firing proceeded as intended, flight controllers assessed the data coming back. Friday will see another firing that will put the capsule in that extended orbit.

NASA’s distance record for an astronaut-designed spacecraft will be broken by Orion this upcoming weekend. Established by Apollo 13 in 1970 at a distance of around 500,000 km (or 250,000 miles). And it will keep moving, getting close to 270,000 miles away from Earth at its farthest point next Monday (433,000 km).

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