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NASA’s Orion capsule enters a distant orbit around the Moon


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Orion capsule entered an orbit tens of thousands of miles around the moon on Friday as it neared the halfway point of its test flight.

The capsule and its three test dummies entered lunar orbit more than a week after launch in a $4 billion demonstration that is expected to pave the way for astronauts. It will remain in this wide but stable orbit for nearly a week, completing only half a circle before heading home.

The capsule was 238,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) from Earth when the engine fired on Friday. It is expected to reach its maximum distance of nearly 270,000 miles (432,000 kilometers) in a few days. This will set a new distance record for a capsule designed to carry people.

“It’s a statistic, but it’s symbolic of what it represents,” Jim Geffre, Orion’s manager, said in an interview with NASA earlier this week. “It’s about challenging ourselves to go further, stay longer and go beyond what we’ve explored before.”

NASA considers this a dress rehearsal for the next lunar flyby in 2024 with astronauts. The landing of astronauts on the moon can happen as early as 2025. The last time astronauts were on the moon was 50 years ago during the Apollo 17 flight.

Earlier this week, Mission Control in Houston lost contact with the capsule for nearly an hour. At the time, controllers were setting up communications between Orion and the Deep Space Network. Officials said the spacecraft remained serviceable.

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