NASA's Orion space capsule flew over the Moon on Monday, December 5, less than 130 kilometers from its surface, a spectacular maneuver which marks the start of the return journey to Earth for 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.
The essential thrust of the main engine of the European service module, which propels the capsule, lasted a little more than three minutes.
We couldn't be happier with the ship's performance
," said Debbie Korth, deputy lead for Orion, later.
Read alsoNasa finally takes the road to the Moon
In front of the magnificent images broadcast live once communication was restored, "
we had to pause, and just watch: wow, we are saying goodbye to the Moon
", she said during a conference of hurry.
In this video capture courtesy of NASA TV, Earth is visible in the shape of a crescent in the minutes after Orion's engine burns out around the Moon on December 5, 2022 HANDOUT/AFP
This was the last major maneuver of the mission.
The latter began with the takeoff of NASA's new mega-rocket on November 16, for a trip that should last 25 and a half days in total.
Orion will now make only slight course corrections until it lands in the Pacific Ocean off the US city of San Diego on Sunday, December 11 at 5:40 p.m. GMT.
Its descent will be slowed by a series of 11 parachutes, then it will be recovered and hoisted aboard a US Navy ship.
During the mission, Orion spent about six days in remote orbit around the Moon.
This image distributed by NASA and released November 21, 2022 shows a view of the spacecraft, Earth, and the Moon captured by a camera on Orion's solar array wing.
HANDOUT / AFP
A week ago, this brand new spacecraft broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, venturing just over 432,000 km from our planet - further than the Apollo missions.
On its return to Earth, the capsule will have traveled more than 2.2 million kilometers in total, said Mike Sarafin, mission manager.
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.
NASA's next-generation rocket with the Orion crew capsule lifts off from Launch Complex 39-B for the unmanned mission Artemis, Florida, November 16, 2022. JOSEPH RIMKUS / REUTERS
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 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, which will land for the first time on the south pole of the Moon.
Officially, these missions are to take place in 2024 and 2025, respectively.