NASA’s Orion space capsule has reached the moon – marking the first time since the Apollo programme completed the task 50 years ago.
The craft whipped around the moon and passed within 80 miles (128km) – a fairly close approach which was caused by the capsule and its three test dummies being on the far side of the moon.
As a result, flight controllers in Houston were faced with a half-hour communication blackout, meaning they did not know if a critical engine firing had been successful until the capsule emerged from behind the moon.
“This is one of those days that you’ve been thinking about and talking about for a long, long time,” flight director Zeb Scoville said.
As the capsule swung out from behind the moon, onboard cameras sent back a picture of Earth – a blue dot surrounded by blackness.
During the approach, the capsule fired its main engine in a “powered flyby burn,” which set it on course to enter lunar orbit in four days time.
If all continues to go well, another engine firing will place the capsule in that orbit on Friday and, by next weekend, it will shatter NASA’s distance record for a spacecraft designed for astronauts.
The capsule will spend close to a week in lunar orbit, before heading home, with a Pacific splashdown planned for 11 December.