US Space agency NASA’s Orion capsule reached the moon on Monday on its way to a record-breaking lunar orbit. It is the first time a capsule has visited the moon since NASA’s Apollo programme 50 years ago, and represents a huge milestone in the $4.1bn test flight that began last Wednesday.
The close approach of 130 km (81 miles) occurred on Monday, as the crew capsule and its three wired-up dummies were on the far side of the moon. Due to a half-hour communication blackout, flight controllers did not know if the critical engine firing went well until the capsule emerged from behind the moon. The capsule sped up well beyond 8,000 km/h (5,000 mph) as it regained radio contact, NASA said. Less than an hour later, the capsule flew above Tranquility Base, where US astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969.
Orion is part of NASA’s Artemis programme, which aims to put the first woman and the first person of colour on the moon in the next few years. It was sent atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), from Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, early Wednesday morning, for a lunar orbit. On Saturday, Orion sent back its first photos of the moon. Later, the capsule’s cameras sent back a picture of the Earth — a tiny blue globe surrounded by blackness.