“Houston, we have a new record.” With this mythical expression, NASA’s social networks announced that the capsule Orion just broke the distance record for a ship capable of transporting humans. At the moment, she is only “capable” because on this trip her crew is made up of three instrumented mannequins to detect radiation and acceleration, a couple of stuffed animals and hundreds of Snoopy pins. The earlier mark corresponded to the apollo 13 which, badly damaged by an explosion on board, had to follow a hastily calculated trajectory to return them home with a minimum of maneuvering. As NASA explains: “Orion It was designed to take humans further into space than ever before and bring them back to Earth safely.”
On Tuesday the capsule skimmed the Moon just over 100 kilometers above its surface, on Saturday it exceeded 400,171 kilometers away from Earth established by the Apollo (on April 15, 1970) and then moved away until it exceeded the 432,192 kilometers (and about 70,000 on the Moon). And he has done it by going through a strange orbit characterized as “distant and retrograde.” The meaning of “distant” is obvious; The “retrograde” refers to the fact that Artemis revolves around the Moon in the opposite direction to what our satellite does around the Earth.
That orbit is special in that it is so wide that it would encompass not only the Moon, but also the L1 Lagrange point, where the attraction of Earth and Moon balance. In fact, Orion you are now navigating an invisible landscape of gravitational valleys and hills that fluctuates minute by minute as our satellite progresses on its trajectory.
Houston, we have a new record 🌎
On Saturday Nov. 26, at 8:40 a.m. ET, @NASA_Orion broke the record for the farthest distance traveled from Earth by a human-rated spacecraft. The record was previously held by Apollo 13 at 248,655 statute miles from Earth. Go Artemis! pic.twitter.com/B4hcXHJESC
— NASA’s Johnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) November 26, 2022
Artemis has managed to enter orbit with minimal fuel consumption and has done so by taking advantage of that phantasmagorical relief gravitational force and also the pull offered by the Moon itself. Its engine has spent barely two tons, four times less than what the Apollo for the same maneuver. That’s why the engine Orion It is much less powerful than that of 50 years ago and its propellant reserves are scarcer. It is also a harnessed piece of the old shuttle: It was one of two Orbital Braking Reactors and had flown a dozen times on various missions.
The capsule Orion it is now so far from the Moon that it has moved out of its sphere of influence and looks more like a satellite revolving in its own orbit around the Earth. The vagaries of celestial mechanics mean that the moment at which the maximum distance to the Moon is reached does not coincide with that of the Earth. The first was on Friday night; the second, three days later.
And while Orion continues on its way, another much smaller satellite —CAPSTONE— has been exploring another very special trajectory for 10 days now: the halo orbit, a very elongated ellipse that passes over both poles of the Moon. It is the one that will follow Artemis 3 when it takes on board the first astronauts to set foot on the Moon again.