EDITORIAL: To the moon (almost) and back

Nov. 21—For the first time in 50 years, we returned to the moon Monday.

Or nearly so.

NASA's Orion capsule got within 81 miles of the surface with an uncrewed spacecraft in a trial run that sets up a crewed mission and eventual return to the lunar surface.

This is a spectacular achievement, and as if to connect two eras, Orion also soared over Tranquility Base, the site where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in 1969 for their first steps on the moon.

"This is one of those days that you've been thinking about and talking about for a long, long time," flight director Zeb Scoville told the Associated Press.

We confess that we have.

We've long championed a return to the moon and onward, to Mars, with crewed U.S.-led missions.

Since the end of the Apollo era in the early 1970s, we have wondered, and have asked: Why aren't we still out there, pushing the boundaries? Why isn't the United States the one still leading the charge?

In some ways we are, of course. On its way home after making contact with the asteroid Bennu is a spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, nearing the end of a seven-year mission. It will return rocks and dust from the asteroid next year that could help unlock answers about the origin of the universe.

The United States also has landers on Mars, including Perseverance, and other spacecraft probing the solar system, and even some that have left it.

Then, this weekend, Orion will reach a maximum distance from Earth of nearly 270,000 miles, the longest distance from Earth for a spacecraft designed for astronauts.

After a week in lunar orbit it returns home, with splashdown in the Pacific scheduled for Dec. 11.

Once again, NASA is getting a literal boost from Joplin.

The 322-foot Space Launch System — the most powerful rocket built by NASA — contained EaglePicher batteries.

"Artemis I is the first in a series of missions to send humans to the moon and beyond," said Ron Nowlin, EaglePicher's senior vice president of aerospace, in a statement to the Globe. "EaglePicher provided the battery for the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, batteries that safely returned Apollo 13 home, and batteries for hundreds of satellites. The Artemis mission will ensure that we continue to support key NASA missions well into the future."

We applaud EaglePicher, NASA, and everyone who had a hand in this spectacular moment, another giant leap.