NASA’s capsule buzzes to the moon, the last big step before lunar orbit ( News Hawaii )

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Orion capsule has touched down on the moon, beating and screeching across the lunar surface on its way to a record-breaking orbit with astronauts sitting on test engines.

The first capsule visited the moon by NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago, and a huge milestone in the $4.1 billion test flight began last Wednesday.

The sight of the looming moon and our pale blue planet more than 230,000 miles (370,000 kilometers) in space left workers “giddy” at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, home to Mission Control, according to flight director Judd Frieling. Even the flight director himself was “absolute”.

“He’s just smiling across the board,” said Orion program manager Howard Hu.

A close approach of 81 miles (130 kilometers) was made as the crew capsule and its three launch vehicles were on the far side of the moon. Because of a half-hour communication blackout, flight controllers in Houston did not know if the critical engine had gone well until the capsule emerged from behind the moon. The camera lens shot back an image of the Earth — a tiny blue dot surrounded by black.

The capsule accelerated to more than 5,000 mph (8,000 kph) and regained radio contact, NASA said. Orion flew less than an hour after Tranquility Base, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969.

There were no pictures of the place because the jump was in darkness, but the administrators promised to try pictures on the return flyby in two weeks.

Orion needs to slingshot around the moon with enough speed to enter the lunar orbit. Another rocket launch will place the capsule in that orbit on Friday.

This coming weekend, Orion set NASA’s space record for space astronauts – nearly 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) from Earth, set by Apollo 13 in 1970. will hold, reaching a maximum distance from Earth next to the Moon of nearly 270,000 miles (433,000 kilometers).

The capsule will spend nearly a week in lunar orbit before heading home. The Pacific splashdown is scheduled for Dec. 11.

Orion has no moons; a touchdown will not be reached until NASA astronauts attempt a lunar landing in 2025 with SpaceX’s Starship.

So before astronauts strap on Orion for a ride around the moon as early as 2024.

Mission manager Mike Sarafin was pleased with the mission’s progress, giving it a “carefully excellent A-plus” so far.

The Space Launch System rocket — the most powerful ever built by NASA — performed very well in its debut, Sarafin told reporters. He said the parties are dealing with two issues that require working – one that covers the navigation path, the other of the power system;

The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket brought more damage than expected, landing on the Kennedy Space Center pad.

The force from the 8.8 million pound (4 million kilogram) intrusion of the liftoff was so great that it blew the elevator doors off, leaving them useless.

Sarafin said the pad damage will be repaired in plenty of time before the next launch.

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