To infinity, and beyond.
NASA’s Artemis I mission has set an out-of-this-world record for space travel, as its Orion capsule traveled “farther than any other spacecraft built for humans.”
The unmanned spacecraft reached 268,563 miles from Earth Monday, the 13th day of the 25.5 day mission that is part of NASA’s lunar exploration program. Upon making history, Orion snapped an astounding photo of the Earth and moon as it cruised at a swift 1,679 mph.
“Because of the unbelievable can-do spirit, Artemis I has had extraordinary success and has completed a series of history-making events,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “It’s incredible just how smoothly this mission has gone, but this is a test. That’s what we do — we test it and we stress it.”
The last benchmark for the farthest distance traveled by a spacecraft meant for humans was set by Apollo 13 in 1970, when the manned ship rocketed 248,655 miles into our galaxy.
Now, 50 years since the end of the Apollo mission, the Artemis I team is challenging Orion for future missions that will, in theory, include a crew. As they near the halfway mark, the flight controllers have completed at least 37% of the mission’s objectives.
“The imagery was crazy,” Rick LaBrode, the lead flight director of the Artemis I mission, said in a live press conference Monday. “It’s really hard to articulate what the feeling is. It’s really amazing to be here and see that.”
But shattering a record doesn’t mean the mission is over. Orion still has to complete multiple objectives, including completing the orbit around the moon, re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and surviving the landing. It is scheduled to touch down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11 after nearly 26 days in space.
Just getting Orion off the ground was met with a few hiccups. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes Nicole and Ian, delayed the launch of the Artemis I mission, as did unexpected fuel leaks.
After years of setbacks, though, the rocket launched Nov. 16 from the Kennedy Space Center.
Once the capsule managed to begin its journey through space, the mission experienced an issue with Orion’s star tracker, a map of the solar system that communicates its orientation to the engineers on the ground, and data wasn’t coming in as expected.
“We worked through that, and there was some great leadership by the Orion team,” the mission’s manager Michael Sarafin also said during Monday’s press conference.
Now that Orion is back on track and performing better than expected, the mission’s team is considering adding seven more objectives to challenge the spacecraft prior to flying a manned mission.
Artemis I is the first in a series of “increasingly complex missions” intended to “build a long-term human presence at the moon” for decades. It’s goal is to challenge Orion’s systems and ensure a safe journey prior to the first flight crew on Artemis II.