NASA‘s Artemis programme is already breaking records, less than two weeks after its very first spaceflight launched.
The agency has confirmed its Artemis 1 Orion capsule smashed the record for the furthest distance travelled from Earth by any craft designed to carry humans.
At 08:40 EST (13:40 GMT) on Saturday (November 26), Orion reached 248,655 miles from Earth, beating the record set by Apollo 13 in April 1970.
Then, at 16:06 EST (21:06 GMT) on Saturday, it reached the farthest point in its orbit – a maximum distance of 268,553 miles.
Artemis 1 is an uncrewed test flight for NASA’s Artemis programme, comprising the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Pictured is Orion looking back at the Earth from a camera mounted on one of its solar arrays
‘It it is a statistic but it’s it’s symbolic for what it represents,’ said Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle integration manager at NASA, during a discussion livestreamed to Twitter.
DISTANCES REACHED FROM EARTH
‘Human exploration is about challenging ourselves to go farther, stay longer and push beyond the limits of what we’ve previously explored.
‘So going past the farthest distance that Apollo ever did with crew represents that the Artemis programme is building off of that legacy.’
Artemis 1 is NASA’s uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, which launched on November 16 from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida.
It’s the first part of the Artemis programme – NASA’s successor to the Apollo programme, which took astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
Artemis 1 is designed to show that the SLS and Orion capsule are ready to carry astronauts to the moon in subsequent Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 missions.
If the mission is successful, Artemis 1 will be followed by a human trip around the moon aboard Orion in 2024 (Artemis 2) and could lead to the first woman and first person of colour landing on the moon the year after (Artemis 3).
Artemis 1 breaks the record set by the famous Apollo 13 mission, an aborted mission to land on the moon that narrowly averted disaster.
Apollo 13’s mission objective was abandoned due to loss of all the oxygen stored in two tanks in the service module.
The three-man crew instead looped around the moon and returned safely to Earth on April 17, six days after it launched.
One of the three Apollo 13 astronauts, Jack Swigert, uttered the infamous words ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem here’, which were misquoted in the 1995 film Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks.
NASA image shows the Apollo 13 lunar module photographed from the command module just after the lunar module was jettisoned, about an hour before splashdown of the command module in the Pacific Ocean
Apollo 13 was aborted due to loss of all the oxygen stored in two tanks in the service module. Pictured, a view of the crippled service module after separation
WHAT IS ARTEMIS 1?
Artemis 1 is an uncrewed test flight for NASA’s Artemis programme, comprising the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
It was successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 2022 at 01:47 EST (06:47 GMT).
The primary operations goal of the mission is to assure a safe crew module entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery.
NASA’s Artemis programme will land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2025, specifically at the lunar south pole region.
It is also hoped that establishing a sustainable lunar presence will ultimately be used as a ‘stepping stone’ for the first human mission to Mars.
Its a successor to the Apollo programme that saw men walk on the moon for the last time in 1972, as part of the Apollo 17 mission.
If Artemis 1 is successful, it be followed by a human trip around the moon in 2024 (Artemis 2) and could lead to the first woman and first person of colour following in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps the year after (Artemis 3).
In addition to sending Orion on its journey around the Moon, SLS carried 10 small satellites that perform their own science and technology investigations.
Officially, Artemis 1 has set a new distance record for what space experts define ‘a human-rated spacecraft’ – one capable of safely transporting humans.
Smaller spacecraft not designed to transport humans have of course reached much further from our planet.
Voyager 1, launched in 1977, it is the most distant human-made object from Earth – and is approximately 14.6 billion miles away.
NASA confirmed the Orion spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit Friday – marking a key stage of the Artemis 1 mission.
Orion will take about a week to complete half an orbit around the moon before exiting the orbit for the return journey home.
It will then begin the journey back to Earth, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean scheduled for December 11, after just over 25 days of flight.
The capsule conducted its first close flyby with the moon on November 21, capturing new images of the lunar surface.
Orion is on a very elliptical orbit around Earth – meaning an orbit that’s not perfectly circular.
As the spacecraft neared the apogee of the orbit (the farthest point from Earth) it slowed down, because Earth’s gravity is pulling the spacecraft back to Earth.
‘This is similar to throwing a stone upwards – it will decelerate the closer it gets to the highest point, only to regain speed as it falls back to Earth,’ the European Space Agency (ESA) explains.
The public can track Orion during its mission around the Moon and back in real-time, using NASA’s interactive online tool.
Artemis 1 is not a manned mission, meaning there are no humans aboard the Orion capsule.
The Orion capsule performed its first close flyby of the moon on November 21. Images were released by NASA two days later
The images were snapped in black and white but show amazing details of the lunar surface and the blackness that is space
Artemis 1 is an uncrewed test flight test of the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Orion took this selfie using a camera mounted on its solar array wing during a routine external inspection of the spacecraft on the third day of the Artemis 1 mission
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will carry the Orion capsule to space for its 25-and-a-half day journey around the moon and then a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 11
However, Orion does have three manikins on board – two resembling a female body (Helga and Zohar) and one a male body (Campos).
Campos – named after Arturo Campos, an electrical engineer for NASA in the 1970s – is occupying the commander’s seat during the Artemis 1 mission while wearing the new Orion Crew Survival System flight suit.
Campos is equipped with two radiation sensors and have additional sensors under its headrest and behind its seat to record acceleration and vibration data throughout the mission.
In the passenger seats meanwhile are Helga and Zohar, on board as part of an important study into the risks of space radiation for real women astronauts in the near future.
Helga and Zohar have ’tissue-equivalent materials of variable density’ that replicate the proportions of a woman’s body, including bone and soft tissue.
Helga will fly unprotected to the Moon, while Zohar (top) will wear a newly developed radiation protection vest, called the AstroRad
Sensors have been fitted in the most radiation-sensitive areas of their ‘bodies’ – chest, stomach, uterus and bone marrow.
Helga is flying unprotected to the Moon, while Zohar wears a newly developed radiation protection vest, called the AstroRad, which is made of polyethylene to better block harmful protons in space.
By comparing the two sets of data, it will be possible to determine the extent to which the vest could protect an astronaut from harmful radiation exposure.
They are not the first space manikins; a phantom called Matroshka, developed by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, was deployed on the ISS between 2004 and 2011.
NASA’s Official Flight Kit list of items for Artemis 1 also includes 245 silver Snoopy pins, a Dead Sea pebble, 567 American flags and a Shaun the Sheep mascot.
The British stop-motion character, a star of the Wallace and Gromit series, is meant to represent the UK and the ESA on the flight.
Shaun has his own spin-off TV series and appeared in his own children’s sci-fi film ‘A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon’ in 2019.
Ahead of the launch of Artemis 1, NASA revealed a list of items it will be sending on its journey to the Earth’s natural satellite, including a Shaun the Sheep mascot (pictured)
NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon in 2025 as part of the Artemis mission
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.
NASA has chosen her to personify its path back to the moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2025 – including the first woman and the next man.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars.
Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the moon and beyond.
During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars. This graphic explains the various stages of the mission
Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars.
The will take crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with humans aboard.
Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging crew and cargo mission needs in deep space.
Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.
The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.