NASA’s Orion Sends Back Haunting New Views of the Moon’s Tortured Surface

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Orion captured this view of the moon on 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 attest.
Last Monday, the unmanned Artemis-1 capsule performed the first of two course correction maneuvers required to enter a distant retrograde orbit. During this course correction, Orion made its closest approach to the moon, coming within 130 kilometers of the lunar surface. Of course, NASA took the opportunity to snap some cool photos, which the space agency released yesterday.
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Uneven limb
Image: NASA
The images were captured on day six of the Artemis 1 mission, an unmanned demonstration of NASA's Orion capsule.
lunar topology
Image: NASA
The Space Launch System (SLS) giant new rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center on November 16, sending Orion on its 25.5-day journey to the moon and back.
More on this story: NASA is downplaying the damage done to the launch pad by the SLS rocket
Craters within craters within craters
The pockmarked lunar surface as seen from Orion.
Orion used its onboard optical navigation camera to capture the moon's grayscale images, which show the most striking feature of our natural satellite -- its extensive collection of craters. In fact, they are craters miles long, with the images even showing craters within craters within craters.
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One of 16 cameras
Image: NASA
Orion's optical navigation camera is one of 16 onboard the spacecraft. In addition to capturing images, the camera helps Orion navigate by capturing images of the Earth and Moon, as well as various phases and distances. And as NASA points out, the images captured by the optical navigation camera will provide "an expanded set of data to certify its effectiveness under different lighting conditions to orient the spacecraft on future crewed missions."
A surface formed 4 billion years ago
Image: NASA
The moon formed over 4 billion years ago, likely the 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 accumulates craters over time. Researchers estimate that about 225 new impact craters form every seven years.
Back to the moon
Image: NASA
Through its ambitious Artemis program, NASA is trying to bring humans back to the moon in a sustainable and long-term way. The ongoing Artemis 1 mission is set to set the stage for Artemis 2, a repeat mission but with compliments from astronauts sailing aboard Orion. This follow-up mission is currently scheduled for 2024.
A wave to Apollo
Image: NASA
After completing the outbound flyby, Orion passed approximately 1,400 miles (2,200 km) above the Apollo 11 landing site at Tranquility Base. It then traversed the Apollo 14 site at an altitude of about 6,000 miles (9,700 km), followed by a pass over the Apollo 12 site at an altitude of about 7,700 miles (12,400 km), according to NASA.
Target: Distant retrograde orbit
Image: NASA
Orion is currently en route to a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) around the Moon. Spacecraft in this highly stable orbit travel very far from the lunar surface at their most distant points and orbit the moon in the opposite direction to that in which the moon orbits the earth (i.e., a retrograde orbit).
Outgoing speedster
Image: NASA
Orion has yet to perform a second course correction maneuver which will attempt it at 16:52 on Friday, November 25. ET. This burn will propel Orion into a distant retrograde orbit, where it will remain for about a week. The spacecraft is currently traveling on a wide trajectory at speeds of up to 8,211 km/h (5,102 mph).
Here for a good time, not long
Image: NASA
Orion is scheduled to leave the lunar environment on December 1st and return to Earth on December 11th.
We'll be coming back
Image: NASA
The first two Artemis missions are a prequel to Artemis 3, in which NASA will attempt to land a man and woman on the lunar surface. The mission is currently scheduled for 2025, but is unlikely to happen until 2026 or even later.
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