The Orion capsule surpassed the distance record for a mission with a spacecraft designed to carry humans into deep space at 270 000 miles on Monday set previously by Apollo 13 at 240 000 miles.
It signals an ambitious change in direction for NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program after decades focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station.
— NASA (@NASA) November 28, 2022
Named for the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt – and Apollo’s twin sister – Artemis aims to return astronauts to the moon’s surface as early as 2025.
To date, only 12 people have ever walked on the moon, all of them NASA astronauts, during six Apollo missions running from 1969 to 1972, a Cold War-era feat born of the US-Soviet space race.
More science-driven than Apollo, the Artemis program has far greater horizons and has enlisted commercial partners such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the space agencies of Europe, Canada and Japan.
Although no people were aboard, Orion carried a simulated crew of three mannequins fitted with sensors to measure radiation levels and other stresses that astronauts would experience.
If the mission succeeds, a crewed Artemis II flight around the moon and back could come as early as 2024, followed within a few years by the program’s first lunar landing of astronauts, one of them a woman, with Artemis III.
Sending astronauts to Mars is expected to take at least another decade and a half to achieve.
More than a decade in development with years of delays and budget overruns, the SLS-Orion spacecraft has cost NASA least $37 billion, with total Artemis spending projected to reach $93 billion by 2025.
NASA has said the program has generated tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in commerce.
Orion is set to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.