NASA’s Orion sends back ghostly new views of the moon’s battered surface

Orion captured this view of the Moon during the sixth day of the Artemis 1 mission.

The moon is a cold, dead and desolate place, as these new images captured by NASA’s Orion spacecraft confirm.

Last Monday, the uncrewed Artemis 1 capsule performed the first of two course correction maneuvers required to enter a far retrograde orbit. During this course correction, Orion made its closest approach to the Moon, coming within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the lunar surface. Naturally, NASA took the opportunity to snap a bunch of cool photos, which the space agency released yesterday.

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Uneven limb

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The images were taken during the sixth day of the Artemis 1 mission, an unmanned demonstration of NASA’s Orion capsule.

Lunar topology

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The new giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 16, sending Orion on its 25.5-day trip to the moon and back.

Craters in craters in craters

The mottled lunar surface as seen from Orion.

The mottled lunar surface as seen from Orion.

Orion used its onboard optical navigation camera to capture grayscale images of the moon, showing our natural satellite’s most striking feature—its extensive collection of craters. Indeed, there are craters for miles, with images even showing craters within craters within craters.

One of 16 cameras

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

Orion’s optical navigation camera is one of 16 on board the spacecraft. In addition to capturing images, the camera helps Orion with navigation and does so by capturing images of the Earth and Moon and various phases and distances. And as NASA points out, the images taken by the optical navigation camera will provide “an enhanced data set to validate its performance in different lighting conditions as a way to help orient the spacecraft on future crewed missions.”

Surface formed 4 billion years ago

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The Moon formed more than 4 billion years ago, possibly as a result of a Mars-sized object colliding with Earth. Our natural satellite has no atmosphere to speak of, and with minimal surface activity, the Moon simply collects craters over time. Researchers estimate that approximately 225 new impact craters appear every seven years.

Back to the moon

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

Through its ambitious Artemis program, NASA aims to return humans to the Moon, but in a sustainable and long-lasting way. The ongoing Artemis 1 mission aims to launch Artemis 2, a repeat mission but complimented by astronauts riding aboard Orion. This sequel mission is currently set for 2024.

Wave to Apollo

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

After completing its outbound flyby, Orion passed approximately 1,400 miles (2,200 km) above the Apollo 11 landing site at Tranquility Base. It then traveled over the Apollo 14 site at an altitude of about 6,000 miles (9,700 km), followed by a trip over the Apollo 12 site at an altitude of about 7,700 miles (12,400 km), according to NASA.

Destination: Far retrograde orbit

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

Orion is currently on its way to a far retrograde orbit (DRO) around the Moon. Spacecraft in this highly stable orbit travel very far from the lunar surface at their furthest points and orbit the Moon opposite the direction the Moon orbits the Earth (i.e., a retrograde orbit).

Outgoing express car

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

Orion still has to perform a second course correction maneuver, which it will attempt on Friday, November 25 at 4:52 PM ET. This burn will move Orion into a distant retrograde orbit, where it will remain for about a week. The spacecraft is currently traveling on a massive trajectory with speeds reaching 5,102 miles per hour (8,211 km/h).

Here for a good time, not for long

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

Orion is due to leave the lunar environment on December 1 and return to Earth on December 11.

We will be back

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The first two Artemis missions are a precursor to Artemis 3, in which NASA will attempt to land a man and a woman on the lunar surface. The mission is currently planned for 2025, but likely won’t happen until 2026 or even later.

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