The Artemis-1 mission’s return journey was launched on Monday when NASA’s Orion spacecraft made a close approach to the Moon and then used gravity to move back towards Earth.
The unmanned spacecraft tested maneuvers that would be employed in upcoming Artemis missions that will bring people back to the rocky planet. The capsule sailed less than 80 miles from the surface at its closest point. The far side of the Moon, which is more cratered than the near side and was first viewed by humans during the Apollo missions, though they did not land there, remained obscured for 30 minutes as the capsule passed behind it.
To return the Orion to Earth, the European Service Module, which powers the capsule, ran its main engine for more over three minutes.
The Orion spacecraft completed the final maneuver that started on November 16 from Florida on Monday. The Moon SLS rocket from NASA is expected to travel there in 25 and a half days. On Sunday, December 11 at 0:40 a.m. local time, Orion will plunge into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego. A US Navy ship will then recover it and house it on board.
A week ago, Orion, a habitable spacecraft, surpassed the Earth’s distance record by traveling 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers). When Orion returns to Earth, it will have traveled more than 1.4 million miles, according to Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager.
The heat shield of the spacecraft will be put to the test upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere since it must endure temperatures of over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees Celsius), or approximately half the surface of the Sun.