NASA’s Orion spacecraft was successfully placed in lunar orbit on Friday, according to officials, as the much-delayed Moon mission continued.
A little more than a week after blasting off from Florida bound for the Moon, flight controllers “successfully performed a burn to insert Orion into a distant retrograde orbit,” according to the US space agency’s website.
The spacecraft will transport astronauts to the Moon in the coming years, the first since the last Apollo mission in 1972.
This first test flight without a crew aims to ensure the vehicle’s safety.
“The orbit is distant in that Orion will fly about 40,000 miles above the Moon,” NASA said.
Flight controllers will monitor key systems and perform checkouts in deep space while in lunar orbit, according to the agency.
Orion will complete half an orbit around the Moon in about a week. According to NASA, it will then exit orbit for the return journey home.
The ship is expected to travel 40,000 miles beyond the Moon on Saturday, a record for a habitable capsule. The Apollo 13 spacecraft currently holds the record at 248,655 miles (400,171 km) from Earth.
After just over 25 days of flight, it will begin its journey back to Earth, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean scheduled for December 11.
The success of this mission will determine the fate of the Artemis 2 mission, which will take astronauts around the Moon without landing, and the Artemis 3 mission, which will finally bring humans back to the lunar surface.
These missions are scheduled for 2024 and 2025, respectively.