NASA’s Orion spacecraft flew just 79 miles above the Moon’s cratered surface on Monday and fired its main engine a last time to head for Earth and a splashdown off San Diego.
The engine ignited at 8:43 a.m. Pacific time and burned for 3 minutes and 27 seconds, changing the velocity of the spacecraft by approximately 655 mph.
“We’ve completed our return powered flyby burn and are heading home!” Nasa tweeted.
The capsule will return to Earth on Dec. 11, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego where it will be recovered by a Navy amphibious ship.
The spacecraft, which blasted off Nov. 16 on NASA’s Space Launch System — the most powerful rocket ever flown — is designed to carry four astronauts on missions of up to 21 days to the moon and beyond.
The Artemis I mission is a test of the entire system prior to sending astronauts around the moon in early 2024. It will be followed by a moon landing in the middle of the decade.
“Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to build a long-term human presence at the Moon for decades to come,” according to NASA.