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NASA capsule tackles last big step before lunar orbit

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NASA’s Orion capsule reached the moon on Monday, hopping over the far side and buzzing the lunar surface en route to a record-breaking orbit where test dummies sit for astronauts.

It’s the first time a capsule has visited the moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago and marks a major milestone in the $4.1 billion test flight that began last Wednesday.

According to flight director Judd Freeling, a video of the looming moon and a pale blue planet more than 230,000 miles away made workers “dizzy” at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, home of Mission Control. Flight he “absolutely amazed” even the controller himself.

Howard Hu, Orion Program Manager, said:

The 81-mile approach occurred when the crew capsule and its three wired dummies were on the far side of the moon. With communication lost for his 30 minutes, Houston’s flight controllers did not know if the critical engine ignition was successful until the capsule emerged from the far side of the moon. The capsule’s camera sent back a picture of Earth — a small blue dot surrounded by black.

NASA said the capsule regained radio communication and thus accelerated well over 5,000 miles per hour. Less than an hour later, Orion flew over Tranquility Base, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed her on July 20, 1969. We didn’t have any photos of the scene as the path was dark, but the manager promised to take photos on the return flyby. in two weeks.

Orion had to circle the moon in a slingshot and gain enough speed to enter the eccentric lunar orbit. Another engine firing will put the capsule into its orbit on Friday.

This weekend Orion will break NASA’s distance record for a spacecraft designed for astronauts (about 250,000 miles from Earth, set by Apollo 13 in 1970).

The capsule will return home after spending about a week in lunar orbit. It is scheduled to land in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th.

Mission Manager Mike Sarafin is pleased with the progress of the mission, giving it a “cautiously optimistic A-plus” so far.

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