Orion, the spacecraft used as part of NASA’s Artemis I mission, buzzed just 80 miles above the moon’s surface early Monday morning as the agency begins a renewed lunar exploration effort.
Orion, which was launched on NASA’s Space Launch System on Nov. 16, completed its five-day path to the moon. NASA now plans to place Orion in lunar orbit for the next week.
Despite a planned loss of communications with the spacecraft early Monday morning, it appeared everything was nominal once communications resumed. The spacecraft returned images as it buzzed by the moon’s surface.
While Orion is unmanned, it could sustain a crew in orbit around the moon for up to 21 days. It could also run autonomously around the moon for six months.
But NASA wants to return Orion much sooner. It is expected to return to Earth Dec. 11, setting the stage for Artemis II in 2024.
Since this flight is in preparation for a crewed mission to the moon, NASA included three mannequins inside Orion.
With its intended goal to eventually send mankind to Mars, NASA is looking to inspire the next generation of astronauts in the same fashion Apollo did in the 60s and 70s.
“I'm a product of the Apollo generation and look what it did for us. And I cannot wait to see what comes from the Artemis generation because I think it's going to inspire even more than Apollo did,” Bob Cabana, the associate administrator for NASA Headquarters, said.