Home / Science / News /  NASA's Orion completes first flight around moon

On December 11, the unmanned Orion spacecraft of NASA completed the first mission of the Artemis lunar programme, travelling around the moon and back 50 years to the day after the last Apollo moon landing. At 12:09 PM (Indian time), the gumdrop-shaped Orion spacecraft, which was carrying a dummy crew of three mannequins equipped with sensors, was scheduled to land close to Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

On November 16, Orion launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida's Kennedy Space Center atop NASA's massive Space Launch System (SLS), the organisation's largest rocket since the Saturn V of the Apollo period and now the most potent rocket in the world.

For Orion’s 25-day mission, it was less than a week after passing about 127 km above the moon in a lunar fly-by and about two weeks after reaching its farthest point in space, nearly 434,500 km from Earth.

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The spacecraft was planned to re-enter Earth's atmosphere at 39,400 kph, or more than 30 times the speed of sound, after ejecting the service module housing its primary rocket system, and drop to the ocean in a fiery 20-minute descent.

The Artemis programme, which intends to send men back to the moon this decade and establish a workable base there as a stepping stone to further manned exploration of Mars, was initiated with the first SLS-Orion mission.

The events surrounding Artemis I's return to Earth also took place on December 11, 1972, which marks the 50th anniversary of Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt's Apollo 17 lunar landing. They were the final of 12 NASA astronauts to set foot on the moon over the course of six separate Apollo missions beginning in 1969.

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In comparison to other spacecraft undertaking more routine descents from the International Space Station (ISS) or other trips from low-Earth orbit, Orion will experience more heat, speed, and forces during its return from the moon.

(With agency inputs)

Sounak Mukhopadhyay
Sounak Mukhopadhyay, who also goes by the name Sounak Mukherjee, has been producing digital news since 2012. He's worked for the International Business Times, The Inquisitr, and Moneycontrol in the past. He's also contributed to Free Press Journal and TheRichest with feature articles. He covers news for a wide range of subjects including business, finance, economy, politics and social media. Before working with digital news publications, he worked as a freelance content writer.
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