Orion approaches the moon
The Orion spacecraft approaches the moon early Monday as a distant Earth is visible in the background. NASA photo

NASA’s Orion spacecraft flew by the moon early Monday and fired its engines for two and a half minutes to enter a special elongated orbit around Earth’s neighbor.

Orion passed 81 miles above the moon and will be over 57,000 miles out when its engines fire a second time on Nov. 25 to enter what scientists call a “distant retrograde orbit.”

“The mission continues to proceed as we had planned, and the ground systems, our operations teams, and the Orion spacecraft continue to exceed expectations, and we continue to learn along the way about this new, deep-space spacecraft,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager, in a Nov. 21 briefing at Johnson Space Center. 

The spacecraft, which blasted off last Wednesday on NASA’s Space Launch System — the most powerful rocket ever flown — is designed to carry four astronauts on missions of up to 21 days to the moon and beyond.

The Orion capsule will return to Earth on Dec. 11, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego where it will be recovered by a Navy amphibious ship.

Artemis 1 is a test mission of the entire system prior to sending astronauts around the moon in early 2024. It will be followed by a moon landing in the middle of the decade.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.