NASA’s Orion spacecraft on track to fly past the moon on Nov. 21

The crew vehicle Orion exceeds expectations on its way to the moon. NASA provided one update on Artemis 1 after the mission’s successful launch early Wednesday morning. “Orion is performing great so far,” said vehicle integration manager Jim Geffre at a NASA press briefing Friday. “All systems exceed expectations from a performance standpoint.”

Artemis 1 is trying to confirm that the crew vehicle can safely carry human astronauts to Earth’s natural satellite. The journey marks Orion’s first trip beyond our planet’s orbit. In 2014, the spacecraft completed a test flight in two orbits around the Earth. A successful flight would pave the way for a manned mission to the moon and eventually NASA’s first manned moon landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The agency expects Artemis 1 to reach the moon on November 21. At that point, the spacecraft will perform the first of four main engine burns NASA has planned for the mission. At times, Orion flies just over 80 miles above the lunar surface. “We will pass some of the Apollo landing sites,” Flight Director Jeff Radigan said. Four days later, NASA plans to conduct a second burn to send Orion into distant lunar orbit before finally putting the spacecraft on a return leg to Earth. If all goes according to plan, Orion will land in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.

Orion’s early successes are a welcome development after the problems NASA experienced with its heavy rocket Space Launch System. The space agency had to postpone the launch of Artemis 1 several times due to engine problems, hydrogen fuel leaks and hurricane-force winds. Early Wednesday morning, it appeared the agency might have to postpone the mission again after the SLS ground team discovered a leak in one of the fuel lines on the rocket’s launch tower. However, after NASA personnel tightened some bolts, the SLS took off and created a dazzling nighttime display.

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