NASA's unmanned Orion space capsule is making its final orbits of the moon as it prepares to return to Earth, completing the kickoff to the space agency's Artemis program.
NASA said the capsule completed a planned trajectory correction burn Thursday to fine-tune its course toward the moon. The burn is one of two maneuvers required ahead of Orion's splashdown Dec. 11 off the coast of Baja, California.
"The second will occur on Monday, when the spacecraft will fly 79.2 miles above the lunar surface and perform a return powered flyby burn, which will commit Orion on its course toward Earth," NASA said in a press release.
The first manned Artemis mission is expected to take place in 2024 and launch astronauts into the moon's orbit. Sometime before 2025, the third mission will put humans on the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Orion carried several experiments, including the Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor, which measures charged particles that pass through its sensors. On crewed missions, NASA said HERA will sound a warning in case of a solar energetic particle event, notifying the crew to take shelter. NASA is also testing a similar HERA unit on board the International Space Station.
The capsule launched off NASA's massive Space Launch System rocket on Nov. 16 after several delays. The 25-day mission was to test how the capsule would fare in space and to make sure of a safe return home. The capsule will have stayed in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station, NASA said. Its return speed to Earth of 25,000 mph will be a record for a spacecraft.
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