CAPE FLORIDA’S CANAVERAL: As it approached the midpoint of its test flight on Friday, NASA’s Orion spacecraft entered an orbit tens of thousands of kilometers around the moon.
After being launched on the $4 billion demonstration flight intended to pave the way for astronauts, the capsule and its three test subjects arrived in lunar orbit more than a week later. It will spend over a week in this wide-ranging yet stable orbit, making only one-half loop before returning to Earth.
The spacecraft was 238,000 miles (or 380,000 kilometers) from Earth at the time of Friday’s engine fire. In a few days, it should travel a maximum of over 270,000 miles (432,000 kilometers). That will establish a new distance record for a capsule that one day will transport people.
Jim Geffre, the manager of Orion, stated in a NASA interview earlier this week that while the statistic is “just a statistic, it’s symbolic for what it represents.” It’s about pushing over the boundaries of what we’ve already examined, staying longer, and going further.
According to NASA, this will serve as a dress rehearsal for the next astronaut-led moon flyby in 2024. Astronauts could make a lunar landing as soon as 2025. The last time astronauts visited the moon was with Apollo 17 fifty years ago.
Mission Control in Houston lost communication with the capsule earlier in the week for almost an hour. The communication link between Orion and the Deep Space Network was being adjusted at the time by controllers. The spacecraft is still in good shape, according to officials.