Nasa’s Orion capsule reaches moon on way to record-breaking lunar orbit | Nasa

Nasa’s Orion capsule reached the moon on Monday, whipping around the back side and passing within 80 miles of the surface on its way to a record-breaking lunar orbit.

The close approach occurred as the crew capsule and its three test dummies were on the far side of the moon.

Because of the half-hour communication blackout, flight controllers in Houston did not know if the critical engine firing went well until the capsule emerged from behind the moon, more than 232,000 miles from Earth.

It’s the first time a capsule has visited the moon since Nasa’s Apollo program 50 years ago, and represented a huge milestone in the $4.1bn test flight that began last Wednesday after Orion launched into space atop the massive Artemis rocket.

Orion’s flight path took it over the landing sites of Apollo 11, 12 and 14 – mankind’s first three lunar touchdowns.

The moon loomed ever larger in the video beamed back earlier in the morning, as the capsule closed the final few thousand miles since blasting off last Wednesday from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, atop the most powerful rocket ever built by Nasa.

“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 while waiting to resume contact.

As the capsule swung out from behind the moon, onboard cameras sent back a picture of Earth, a blue dot surrounded by blackness.

Orion needed to slingshot around the moon to pick up enough speed to enter the sweeping, lopsided lunar orbit. If all continues to go well, another engine firing will place the capsule in that orbit on 1 Friday.

This weekend, Orion will shatter Nasa’s distance record for a spacecraft designed for astronauts – nearly 250,000 miles from Earth, set by Apollo 13 in 1970.

And it will keep going, reaching a maximum distance from Earth next Monday at nearly 270,000 miles.

The capsule will spend close to a week in lunar orbit, before heading home. A Pacific splashdown is planned for 11 December.

Orion has no lunar lander, a touchdown will not come until Nasa astronauts attempt a lunar landing in 2025 with SpaceX’s Starship. Before then, however, astronauts will strap into Orion for a ride around the moon as early as 2024.

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