WASHINGTON: Nasa´s Orion spaceship made a close pass of the Moon and used a gravity assist to whip itself back towards Earth on Monday, marking the start of the return journey for the Artemis-1 mission.
At its nearest point, the uncrewed capsule flew less than 130-km from the surface, testing maneuvers that will be used during later Artemis missions that return humans to the rocky celestial body.
Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes when it was behind the far side of the Moon -- an area more cratered than the near side and first seen by humans during the Apollo era, although they didn´t land there.
The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home. It was the last major maneuver of the mission, which began when Nasa´s mega Moon rocket SLS blasted off from Florida on November 16. From start to finish, the journey should last 25 and a half days.
Orion will now make only slight course corrections until it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on Sunday, December 11 at 9:40 am local time (1740 GMT). It will then be recovered and hoisted aboard a US Navy ship.