Orion should surpass that at 7:42 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday. The spacecraft is expected to reach its maximum distance of more than 270,000 miles from Earth by 4:13 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, NASA said.
The distant orbit, which requires little fuel, will allow Orion to test its systems to see how the craft behaves. However, the orbit is so large that the spacecraft will complete only about half an orbit in six days before beginning its return flight to Earth.
The flight without astronauts on board is the first step NASA’s Artemis programwhich is attempting to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
With cameras mounted on the outside of the spacecraft, Orion was reflects dramatic images and live video from his trip. including spectacular images of Earth hanging in the distance, more than 200,000 miles away, in the vast, inky darkness of space.
If the current mission, known as Artemis I, goes well, NASA plans a second flight, this time with astronauts on board, as early as 2024. This mission, known as Artemis II, would also orbit the moon, with a human landing come later.
“The mission continues to progress as we planned, and the ground systems, our operations teams and the Orion spacecraft continue to exceed expectations,” said Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis I mission manager, this week. “And we’ll continue to learn about this new spacecraft along the way.”
He said the Space Launch System rocket, even more powerful than the Apollo-era Saturn V, performed so well the results were “eye tears”. However, its massive thrust caused some damage to its mobile launch tower, including blowing up the doors of the tower’s elevator. But on the whole “the structure held itself up well,” Sarafin said.
After completing half an orbit around the moon, Orion will launch itself around the moon toward home.
One of the main tests will take place when the spacecraft re-enters Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of about 25,000 miles per hour. The friction with the compressing air creates temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The spacecraft is scheduled to land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego in December. 11.
While there are no actual astronauts aboard the Artemis I mission, there is a mannequin named Moonikin Campos who sits in the command seat of the Orion spacecraft. It’s outfitted with a suit and sensors to provide feedback on what the ride will be like for future astronauts.
The seat has two sensors to record acceleration and vibration. The space suit has sensors to record radiation levels.
The name “Moonikin” was chosen through a public competition. Campos was chosen in honor Arturo Camposa former NASA engineer who played a key role in restoring the Apollo 13 spacecraft after the mission went awry.
Two mannequin torsos also ride along. Named Zohar and Helga, they are made of materials that NASA says “mimic human bones, soft tissues and organs of an adult female.” (It is believed that women are more sensitive to radiation exposure than men.)
They also have sensors to measure radiation. Zohar has a radiation vest, but Helga doesn’t.