The Orion spacecraft, launched by NASA on the Artemis I mission, is preparing to return to Earth after spending a week in orbit around the Moon.
Orion left distant retrograde orbit around the Moon on December 5, 2022, and started to conduct the final maneuver which would put the spacecraft on an Earth-bound trajectory.
At the peak of the maneuver the capsule will pass 127 kilometers (79 miles) above the Moon’s surface, mirroring the close pass conducted before entering the orbit on November 27, 2022.
According to NASA, the spacecraft will use the Moon’s gravity to slingshot itself towards Earth, then spend another six days closing the distance, before splashing down to Earth on the afternoon of December 11, 2022.
If successful, this will mark the first step in NASA’s new moon landing program.
Artemis 1 is the maiden mission for both the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft. It was envisioned as proof of concept before the beginning of manned missions in 2023, including a Moon landing expected in 2024.
An ambitious program set to repeat the achievement of Apollo missions from the 1960s and 70s, as well as establish a permanent inhabited base on the Moon, Artemis is still facing technical difficulties and financial troubles that leave its goals hanging in the balance.