NASA’s Orion spacecraft flew by the moon early Monday and fired its engines for two and a half minutes to enter a special elongated orbit around Earth’s neighbor.
Orion passed 81 miles above the moon and will be over 57,000 miles out when its engines fire a second time on Nov. 25 to enter what scientists call a “distant retrograde orbit.”
The spacecraft, which launched last Wednesday 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 Orion 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 first flight, named Artemis 1, is a test mission prior to sending astronauts around the moon in early 2024. It will be followed by a moon landing in the middle of the decade.