Photos from NASA's Artemis mission zipping past the moon reveal a view no astronaut has seen firsthand in 50 years

Photos from NASA's Artemis mission zipping past the moon reveal a view no astronaut has seen firsthand in 50 years
spaceship with moon looming large on the right and earth small in the distance beyond
The Earth sets from the far side of the moon just beyond the Orion spacecraft in this video taken on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission.NASA
  • NASA's Orion spaceship is hurtling around the moon for the first time, in the Artemis I mission.

  • Photos from the spacecraft show it leaving Earth and speeding to the far side of the moon.

  • It's the first time a spacecraft made for humans has flown to the moon since the Apollo program ended 50 years ago.

NASA's new Orion spaceship is beyond the far side of the moon, and it's beaming gorgeous photos back to Earth.

The space capsule launched aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on November 15. Both the capsule and the rocket are designed to send humans back to the moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972 — reviving NASA's moon ambitions in a new program called Artemis. Both the capsule and the rocket were flying for the first time.

The rocket's job is done, but Orion is now completing a 25-day journey around the moon and back. The mission is called Artemis I. It's a test flight to ensure the spacecraft can safely carry astronauts.

As Orion zipped away from Earth, its camera turned back to look at our planet.

spaceship solar array high above earth in space
One of Orion's four solar arrays deploys shortly after launch, high above Earth.NASA

Orion entered the "lunar sphere of influence" on Sunday, where the moon overtakes Earth as the primary gravitational force.

spaceship with nasa written on it in space with moon in distance
The Orion spacecraft with the moon beyond was captured by a camera on the tip of one of Orion's solar arrays.NASA

Then it skimmed past the moon on Monday, flying about 81 miles above the lunar surface, passing over three Apollo landing sites. The spaceship screamed past at about 5,102 miles per hour, then slowed to careen through space at 3,489 mph, according to NASA.

spaceship with moon looming in the background
A portion of the far side of the Moon looms large the day Orion makes its close approach.NASA

Now Orion is on the far side of the moon. No humans have experienced this view firsthand since the Apollo missions. But if Orion succeeds on its first flight, NASA plans to send it with astronauts next time.

On Friday, Orion is set to reach its furthest point from the moon, about 57,287 miles past it.

Then on Monday, the spaceship should reach its farthest point from Earth, about 20,000 miles farther than any spacecraft made to transport humans has ever traveled.

This mission is designed to test the spaceship's limits. Orion is carrying three mannequins fitted with scientific instruments and sensors, to measure the acceleration, vibration, and radiation that could impact future passengers.

mannequin in spaceship seat view from behind with blank dashboard screens
The inside of the Orion crew module on flight day one of the Artemis I mission, with a "Moonikin" mannequin in the commander's seat.NASA

The moon's gravity should catapult Orion back toward Earth, hurtling the spaceship into a fiery fall through the atmosphere, which will test its heat shield's capacity to protect passengers. Then Orion should release its parachutes and drift to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

illustration shows orion capsule fireball streaking toward earth
An artist's illustration of the Orion capsule reentering Earth's atmosphere and plummeting toward splashdown.NASA/Liam Yanulis

NASA plans to use SLS, Orion, and SpaceX's Starship to land astronauts on the moon again in 2025. Eventually, the agency plans to set up a permanent base on the lunar surface and build a new space station in lunar orbit.

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