After a close flyby of the Moon, the Orion capsule begins its return to Earth

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After a close flyby of the Moon, the Orion capsule begins its return to Earth

Orion has captured images of Earth and the Moon from its distant lunar orbit, including this one taken Nov. 28 by a camera mounted on one of the ship's solar panels.

NASA's Orion space capsule on Monday completed a flyby of the Moon less than 130 kilometers from its surface, a spectacular maneuver that marks the beginning of the return to Earth from this first mission of the Artemis program.

By performing this flyby very close to the surface, the spacecraft took advantage of the gravitational pull of the Moon to propel itself on its return trajectory.

Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes when it passed behind the far side of the Moon. It was also to fly over Apollo mission landing sites.

On the 19th day of the Artemis 1 mission, a camera placed on one of Orion's solar panels takes an image of the capsule and the Earth.

The essential thrust from the main engine of the European service module, which propels the capsule, lasted just over three minutes.

This was the last big maneuver of the mission. The latter began with the launch of NASA's new mega-rocket on November 16, for a journey that should last 25 and a half days in total.

Orion will now only carry out slight course corrections until it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the US city of San Diego on Sunday, December 11 at 12:40 p.m. (EST). It will be picked up by a US Navy ship and hoisted aboard.

During the mission, Orion spent approximately six days in a remote orbit around the Moon.

A week ago, this brand new spacecraft broke the distance record for a habitable capsule by venturing just over 432,000 km from our planet — farther than the Apollo missions.

The capsule does not carry a passenger, the purpose of this Artemis 1 mission being to verify that the vehicle is safe for a future crew.

The main objective is to test the resistance of Orion's heat shield – the largest ever built – when it enters the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 40,000 km/h. It will have to withstand a temperature half as hot as that of the surface of the Sun (2800°C).

With the Artemis program, the Americans intend to establish a lasting presence on the Moon, in order to prepare for a trip to Mars.

The Artemis 2 mission will take astronauts to the Moon, still without landing there. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis 3.

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