‘An absolutely critical burn:’ NASA provides preview as Orion approaches Moon’s orbit

Preview featured Q&A with NASA officials

HOUSTON – NASA officials on Friday held a news conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss what the determinedly drifting Orion capsule has ahead of it next: the Moon’s sphere of influence, its gravitational pull.

The NASA event began at 5:30 p.m. — pushed back from its original schedule of 5 p.m. — and will feature Artemis I Mission Manager Mike Sarafin, Flight Director Jeff Radigan and Orion Vehicle Integration Manager Jim Geffre, according to the space agency.

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The Orion capsule hitched a ride to space with NASA’s Space Launch System rocket early Wednesday after two scrubbed launch attempts — on Aug. 29 due to a faulty temperature sensor and on Sept. 4 due to a liquid hydrogen leak — two hurricanes and, generally, a fair amount of patience from mission managers and spectators alike.

The uncrewed spacecraft is now on the move, continuing its 25.5-day journey to the moon’s orbit and back again, traveling faster than Mach 7.

Success of the Artemis I mission will lead NASA to conduct Artemis II, which will also orbit the moon, but with a crew on board. Following a good run with Artemis II, NASA seeks to land on the moon for the first time in a long time, to put it lightly, with Artemis III.

In Friday’s news conference, officials said that NASA will decide on Saturday whether to enter the lunar retrograde orbit, though all systems look favorable for orbital insertion.

“In terms of our readiness to commit to the distant retrograde orbit and the decision gate tomorrow, there is nothing that sticks out,” Sarafin said.

If approved, the burn will happen Monday on the dark side of the Moon, leaving the spacecraft out of communications for about 34 minutes. NASA said that the onboard computer will then handle the burn, which is the first of four to complete the mission.

“This is an absolutely critical burn,” Radigan said. “It’s one that Orion has to perform. It will perform the burn with its OMS engine, but if there is a problem, the (auxiliary) engines will pick up and complete the burn.”

NASA officials also said that the solar arrays are collecting more power than expected, and the vehicle itself is using less power than anticipated. They added that the force of the initial launch blew off the blast doors on the launch tower’s elevator, which is currently under repair.

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