By Steve Pedry  06/12/22

NASA's Orion Capsule Approaches Moon

NASA's unmanned Orion capsule approached the moon's surface Monday. Since Apollo 17,  50 years ago, this is the closest a human-made spacecraft has come to the moon.

The capsule flew by the moon on its return voyage. This happened a week after Orion reached its farthest point in space, 270,000 miles from Earth, during its 25-day mission.

Orion's engines were fired during a "powerful flyby burn" on Monday. This sped up the spacecraft's return to Earth.

NASA said that the 3-and-a-half-minute burn would be Orion's last big move in space before it was set to parachute into the ocean and land on Dec. 11.

Apollo 17 was the last Apollo mission to get close to the moon. This month marks the 50th anniversary of Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt's moonwalk.

Orion has a "simulated crew" comprising three mannequins. It flew farther than any "crew-class" spaceship on its 13th day.

It reached 268,563 miles from Earth, over 20,000 miles farther than Apollo 13 in 1970. Apollo 13 had a near-catastrophic mechanical breakdown and had to turn back in 1970.

Orion's launch last month began Apollo's replacement plan, Artemis. Artemis aims to return men to the moon this decade and establish a permanent base there for future Mars exploration.

Orion was taken to space by NASA's next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which launched Nov. 16 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.