NASA’s Moon Spaceship Beams Back Remarkable Views Of Lunar Surface

Ramish Zafar
The Earth is visible from Orion's navigation camera. Image: NASA

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has released new images of the Moon taken from its Orion spacecraft. Orion took to the skies earlier this month as part of a weeks long journey to test the spaceship before it can be certified to meet the requirements of a crewed flight. This mission is part of NASA's Artemis program, which aims to develop a sustained human presence on the lunar surface. The next Artemis mission will see astronauts fly around the Moon if the current mission is a success and NASA engineers determine that the spacecraft can be certified for crewed flights.

NASA Shares First Lunar Images From A Crew Vehicle Since The Apollo Program

The mission will see Orion will fly to what is called a distant retrograde orbit. This will mark the first time that a spaceship designed for humans makes such an orbit, which will take it thousands of miles beyond the Moon and the farthest that a human spacecraft has ever been. Placing Orion into this orbit also relies on using the Moon's gravity, which then saw the vehicle come tantalizingly close to the lunar surface earlier this week.

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As part of the outbound flyby burn, which is necessary to place Orion into the desired orbit, the vehicle came as close as 81.1 miles to the lunar surface while it was traveling at a whopping 5,102 miles per hour. The journey also saw NASA snap images of the Moon, the Earth and the space in between to provide some remarkable views. These views are also the first time that a human spacecraft has taken them ever since NASA flew the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. A lot has changed this then, especially the technology that allows for greater image quality.

NASA Orion spacecraft sends back image of the Moon on day six of the mission
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As part of its maiden voyage to the Moon, Orion has faced several hiccups. These are the reason why the first flight of any potential crewed vehicle is always uncrewed since such complex systems have a high chance of presenting unforeseen problems. Some of these came late last week when problems with onboard memory and flight controlled systems were solved by engineers.

The latest issue however took longer to resolve. as on Wednesday NASA staff lost communications with the spaceship. This came five minutes after Orion completed its fifth outbound trajectory correction burn, and it came during the same time frame of engineers testing the ship's guidance systems. These systems orient the spacecraft by tracking the stars, and they evaluated the system's sensitivity to temperature systems.

The blackout took place at 1:09 am EST on Wednesday, and it lasted for 47 minutes. It occurred when engineers were reconfiguring the connection between NASA's satellite dish network that is located all over the globe and was a surprise as the reconfiguration had been successfully conducted during the earlier stages of Orion's journey.

Orion will enter the distant retrograde orbit later today, which will see the ship travel as far as 50,000 miles from the lunar surface. Engineers have also been testing Orion's reaction control thrusters to ensure that a backup plan is available in case the primary orbital insertion is unsuccessful for any reason. The burn is slated to take place at 4:52 pm EST later today and the ship will spend six days orbiting the Moon before it is ready to come back to Earth. This final leg is a crucial part of the test mission, as it will see NASA evaluate its heatshield at levels that cannot be replicated on Earth.

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