NASA’s Moon Mission ‘Exceeds’ Expectations

NASA’s Orion spacecraft en route to the Moon, with Earth in the background, in a photo released by NASA in November 2022

On the third day after liftoff from Florida bound for the Moon, the Orion spacecraft is “exceeding performance expectations,” NASA officials said Friday.

The spacecraft is set to carry astronauts to the Moon in the coming years — the first to set foot on its surface since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

This first test flight, without a crew, aims to ensure that the vehicle is safe.

“Today we met to review the performance of the Orion spacecraft … it is exceeding performance expectations,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis 1 mission chief.

The spacecraft’s four solar panels, about 13 feet (four meters) long, deployed properly and are providing more power than expected, said Jim Geffre, the Orion manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

It is from that control center in Texas that the spacecraft is piloted.

Orion is already about 200,000 miles (320,000 kilometers) from Earth and is preparing to perform the first of four major thrusts planned during the mission using its engines.

This maneuver, which will take place early Monday morning, will bring the spacecraft within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the Moon’s surface in order to take advantage of the Moon’s gravitational pull.

Since this will be on the far side of the Moon, NASA is expected to lose contact with the spacecraft for about 35 minutes.

“We’re going to pass over some of the Apollo landing sites,” said flight director Jeff Radigan, although it will be in the dark. Footage from the flyover will be released by NASA.

Four days later, a second boost from the engines will place Orion into a distant orbit around the Moon.

The ship will go up to 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, a record for a habitable capsule.

It will then begin its journey back to Earth, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean scheduled for December 11, after just over 25 days of flight.

The success of this mission will determine the future of the Artemis 2 mission, which will take astronauts around the Moon without landing, and then Artemis 3, which will finally mark the return of humans to the lunar surface.

These missions are scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

Sarafin also said Friday that 10 science microsatellites had been deployed when the rocket lifted off, but that half of them were experiencing technical or communication problems.

However, these experiments, carried out separately by independent groups, will have no impact on the main mission.

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