NASA’s Orion capsule has reached the moon — for the first time since the Apollo program completed its mission 50 years ago.
The spacecraft orbited the moon and passed within 80 miles (128 kilometers) — a fairly close distance, given that the capsule and its three test dummies are on the far side of the moon.
As a result, flight controllers in Houston faced a half-hour loss of communications, meaning they didn’t know whether the critical engine firing was successful until the capsule emerged from behind the Moon.
“It’s one of those days where you’re thinking and talking about it for a long time,” said flight supervisor Zeb Scoville.
As the capsule swung out from behind the moon, an onboard camera sent back a picture of Earth — a blue dot surrounded by darkness.
During the approach, the capsule ignited its main engine in a “power flyby burn,” allowing it to enter lunar orbit four days later as planned.
If all goes well, another engine will send the capsule into that orbit on Friday, and by the end of next week, it will break the distance record for a NASA spacecraft designed for astronauts.
The capsule will stay in lunar orbit for nearly a week before returning home, where it is scheduled to touch down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.