NASA’s Orion spacecraft continues its trip around the Moon as those with the Artemis I objective continue gathering data to use in future missions within the program. Wednesday, Artemis I officials unveiled a series of stills captured of the lunar surface, showing its craters in full glory. Across NASA‘s social media profiles, four images were shown of different areas of the Moon. According to the post, the pictures released are the closest images taken of the satellite since the Apollo program ended in 1975.
“This photo was taken using Orion’s optical navigational system, which captures black-and-white images of the Earth and Moon in different phases and distances. This vital technology demonstration on the Artemis I flight test will help prove its effectiveness for future crewed missions,” NASA wrote alongside the pictures.
It added, “Orion also passed over the landing spots from Apollo 11, 12, and 14 and is on its way toward a distant retrograde orbit, a high-altitude orbit that moves Orion in the opposite direction that the Moon travels around Earth.”
The Artemis program is arguably NASA’s most intensive project in recent memory. If Artemis I is ultimately successful, Artemis II will see the same systems be piloted by a crew of four astronauts. Artemis III–currently scheduled for 2024–would then return astronauts to the Moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.
The SLS carrying Orion successfully launched earlier this week after a months-long delay due to a range of factors. Should all go to plan, Orion will make its journey back to Earth before a splash down in December.
“What an incredible sight to see NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch together for the first time. This uncrewed flight test will push Orion to the limits in the rigors of deep space, helping us prepare for human exploration on the Moon and, ultimately, Mars,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said of the launch.
“It’s taken a lot to get here, but Orion is now on its way to the Moon,” added Jim Free, NASA deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. “This successful launch means NASA and our partners are on a path to explore farther in space than ever before for the benefit of humanity.”