The Orion spacecraft is on its return journey back to Earth, completing a near-month-long trip since its launch on November 16.
NASA made the announcement via Twitter on December 5, explaining that Orion had completed its flyby burn, which will power its return to Earth.
The spacecraft exited the Moon’s sphere of gravitational influence at 1:29 a.m. CST on December 6, entering its final course home, according to NASA. The Earth’s own force of gravity is now the primary one acting on the spacecraft, which after a deorbit burn will splash down off the Californian coast in just a few days.
Orion reached the Moon on November 21, as previously reported by The Dallas Express, marking the first lunar approach since 1972.
The craft has since been in orbit around the Moon, reaching a record-breaking distance of nearly 270,000 miles away from Earth on November 28.
On its final flyby, Orion passed roughly 80 miles above the lunar surface, its closest approach of the two made during this mission.
Establishing a long-term presence on the lunar surface is the ultimate goal of NASA’s Artemis program. As The Dallas Express previously reported, Artemis I is an unmanned mission aimed at testing Orion’s systems from spaceflight to splashdown in order to pave the way for future missions.
It is for this reason that the NASA team is brimming with excitement.
“Orion is heading home! Today the team achieved another momentous accomplishment, flying Orion just 80 miles from the surface of the Moon. The lunar flyby enabled the spacecraft to harness the Moon’s gravity and slingshot it back toward Earth for splashdown,” summarized NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
“When Orion re-enters Earth’s atmosphere in just a few days, it will come back hotter and faster than ever before — the ultimate test before we put astronauts on board…” he continued.
Indeed, according to NASA, the U.S. Navy has joined NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program in preparing for Orion’s recovery using divers and small boats. This past weekend they practiced recovery procedures in open water using a mock capsule.
Artemis II is the second mission planned to launch as early as 2024. This will be the first manned launch, carrying four astronauts into orbit around the Moon.
As of December 7, Orion is on the 21st day of its mission and is over 230,000 miles away from Earth, traveling at 705 miles per hour.
Keep up with the space capsule in real time using this website designed by NASA for viewers to track the progress of the craft in its mission.
Orion is expected to make a splashdown on Sunday, December 11.