Artemis 1’s Orion Spacecraft Makes A Low Pass Over The Moon


NASA’s Orion spacecraft, launched last Wednesday (Nov. 16) atop the Artemis 1 Space Launch System (SLS), sent back compelling images of the Earth and made a low pass over the dark-side surface of the moon on Monday. “Low” is relative, of course, but descending to within 81 miles of the moon’s surface yielded some breathtaking images. That distance contrasts with the 280,000 miles Artemis 1 had to travel to reach the closest point to the moon of its journey.

The mission is the first of three, with the ultimate goal of landing humans on the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 crew member Gene Cernan took the last lunar trek almost 50 years ago in December 1972. Artemis 2, currently scheduled for 2024, will retrace the path of the current mission, but with human occupants replacing the mannequins seated aboard Artemis 1. Artemis 3, optimistically targeted for 2025, is planned to land the first humans on the moon in more than half a century. What NASA learns from this exercise is meant to lead to the next stop, Mars.

With the long-range goal of the red planet in mind, the Artemis 1 mission is a 26-day exploration with a 1.3 million-mile itinerary. NASA says that’s farther than any other spacecraft (designed to carry humans) has boldly gone. Orion will enter a distant “retrograde orbit” (opposite to the direction the moon orbits the Earth) later this week and circle the moon for about a week before heading back home to Earth, executing a (hopefully) “precision” splashdown off the coast of Baja, California, on Dec. 11. Recovery teams from the U.S. Navy and NASA will be on site for the arrival.

As for the captivating pictures and video to be expected from NASA over the next few days, David Melendrez, imagery integration lead for the Orion Program, said in a statement, “Images captured during the [Artemis 1] mission will be different [from] what humanity saw during Apollo missions, but capturing milestone events such as Earthrise, Orion’s farthest distance from Earth and lunar flyby will be a high priority.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. “The mission is the first of three, with the ultimate goal of landing humans on the moon for the first time since….December 1972. ”


    • Seems like the (author unknown)dream has always been “moon first, mars second”. Perhaps this planned return to the moon is sort of a trial rehearsal for making the second and longer trip to Mars. Human history has many instances of taking risky trips to explore what is unknown. It’s sort of “what we do”. Not all of us, probably only a few. Pilots and sailors seem to embody that drive or interest a bit more than the “average” person.

    • It’s a race with the Chinese to claim probable ice under the surface of the South Pole, critical to making rocket fuel for further space exploration to Mars and beyond.

      There are other significant economic gains from fundamental R&D in material sciences, engineering, and military readiness/parity.

    • Why, indeed.

      There are thousands of hours of documentaries, thousands of books and a plethora of photographs and paintings of Yellowstone National Park. There is absolutely nothing about Yellowstone one cannot read about or opine in front of an Ansel Adams photograph.

      Yet, tourism to Yellowstone creates $834 million in economic benefits. Other reports shows $20.5 billion of direct spending by more than 297 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park.

      Why in the world do people spent so much money for something they can read about in a public library?

      • Why, further:

        Do hundreds of pilots fire up the 182 and spend hundreds of dollars flying to an airport to order a hamburger they could have grilled themselves for a dollar?

        Why Yellowstone? Why the $100 hamburger? Why the moon? Why the obsessive “need” for humans to do things?

    • For the same reasons discussed here in response to this same question, asked by you and others every time there’s an article here about space. Got any new questions?

      • My hope, was to give the OP a reason to pause and contemplate his own question.

        If he can answer mine, surely he can answer his own.

    • Spending my money going back to that dusty rock pizzes me off. Same opinion of any more money spent on Mars. They need to spend that money on saving the Earth instead of worrying about colonizing those hideous places.

  2. Meanwhile, back on earth NASA is still planning live broadcasts on its official website, (the one with .gov on the end, with gov standing for government) of the Russian spacewalks from the space station later this month and in December, they have already broadcast one.
    Which was picked up all over the Russian media, in-between reports glorifying the war in Ukraine.
    And they wonder why their public image is so-so.

    • I’m not sure attempting to conceal the fact that Russians are still involved in the International Space Station would burnish their image much.