NASA’s Orion spacecraft reached the farthest starting point of its journey from Earth on Monday, at a distance of more than 430,000 km from the human world. This is nearly twice the distance between Earth and the Moon and farther than the Apollo capsule traveled during NASA’s lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
From this vantage point, on Monday, a camera was installed on the solar panels aboard the Orion Service Module captured images to the moon and directly beyond the earth. These were beautiful, lonely, evocative images.
“The visuals were insane,” said Artemis I flight director Rick Labroade. “It’s really hard to express the feeling. It’s really amazing to be here, and to see that.”
Labroad was speaking during a news conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he and other NASA officials gave an update on the progress of the mission to test the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. This uncrewed test flight is a precursor to crewed missions later this decade, including the lunar landing of the Artemis III mission.
Having successfully completed the launch, mission director Mike Sarafin said the agency is now fully confident Space Launch System Rocket. “The missile is proven,” he said.
Orion still has to do, of course. Its mission will not be complete until the spacecraft maneuvers around the Moon, returns to Earth, survives re-entry into the atmosphere, splashes into the ocean, and is recovered off the coast near San Diego, California. This is scheduled to happen on December 11th.
However, the mission is going so well that NASA decided to add goals, such as firing different thrusters for longer than intended to check their performance. This work will increase NASA’s confidence in the Orion capsule and the ESA’s Propulsion Service Module.
Overall, 31 of the 124 Artemis I mission objectives have been completed, Sarafin said. Many of these relate to launch vehicle performance. Of the remaining goals, half are still in progress, and the other half are yet to be completed. Most are related to landing back on the ground, such as a parachute deployment system.
Understandably, NASA engineers are pleased with Artemis I’s performance so far. It has been a long, bumpy and expensive development road to get to this mission with the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. But once the vehicles began flying, their performance met all of the space agency’s expectations and hopes, adding confidence in the future of the Artemis lunar exploration program.