The moon looks spectacular in images captured by NASA’s Orion spacecraft as it cruised just 81.1 miles (130 kilometers) above the lunar surface during the Artemis 1 mission’s closest approach to Earth’s natural satellite on Monday (Nov. 21).
Orion is currently gearing up for a critical maneuver that will insert the capsule into a high orbit around the moon on Friday (Nov. 25). The capsule will perform a single-engine burn and all being well, will remain in lunar orbit for about one week before embarking on its journey back to Earth. The spacecraft is scheduled to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast on Dec. 11.
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Orion has been busy capturing images of Earth and the moon at different phases and distances to test the effectiveness of its optical navigation camera under different lighting conditions as a way to aid spacecraft orientation during future crewed missions, according to the image descriptions on NASA’s Flickr account (opens in new tab).
All being well, the pair could fly astronauts to the vicinity of the moon as early as 2024 — the first time since 1972 — during Artemis 2.
Around a year or two later, Artemis 3 will land astronauts near the moon’s south pole.