Sun. May 19th, 2024

NASA Capsule Soars Over Historic Apollo Landing Sites, Homeward Bound.

On Monday, the Orion spacecraft from NASA made one more round of the moon with its test subjects before returning to Earth.

To prepare for astronauts on the subsequent voyage in a few years, Orion will aim for a splashdown in the Pacific on Sunday outside San Diego.

The spacecraft used the moon’s gravity as a slingshot for the 237,000-mile (380,000-kilometer) journey back to Earth when it passed within 80 miles (130 km) of the far side of the moon. It orbited the moon for a week in a large, sweeping arc.

Orion sent back images of a close-up moon and a crescent Earth in the distance after emerging from behind the moon and resuming contact with Houston’s flight controllers.

According to Sandra Jones of Mission Control, “Orion now has its sights set on home.”

The spacecraft also flew by Apollo 12 and 14’s landing zones. But at 1,200 miles (1,900 km) in the air, it was too high to see the lunar landers’ descent stages or anything else the astronauts left behind more than 50 years ago. Two weeks prior, during a comparable flypast, it was too dark to take images. It was daytime this time.

Zebulon Scoville, the deputy chief flight director, stated that only the adjacent craters and other natural features would be visible in any photographs.

Last week, Scoville told reporters, “It will be more of a tip of the hat and a historical nod to the past.”

According to authorities, the three-week test flight has thus far exceeded expectations. The toughest hurdle, however, is yet to come: surviving the scorching reentry after entering the atmosphere at a speed greater than 30 times the speed of sound.

The Space Launch System, or SLS, NASA’s most potent rocket to date, launched Orion on its maiden voyage on Nov. 16.

The following mission, perhaps in 2024, will try to transport four humans around the moon. The third mission, scheduled for 2025, will include the first manned lunar landing since the Apollo moon programme came to an end this month, 50 years ago.

Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ron Evans were aboard Apollo 17 as it launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre on December 7, 1972. The longest stay of the Apollo period was three days on the lunar surface by Cernan and Schmitt, while Evans orbited the moon. The only survivor is Schmitt.