NASA Releases Breathtaking New Photos of the Moon’s Surface

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

NASA‘s Artemis mission completed its turn around the Moon recently, and the Orion spacecraft onboard captured some stunning photos of the Moon from orbit. Previously, Orion sent back images of the Earth from about 230,000 miles away, as well as a look at the Earth during liftoff. It resembles a little blue marble out there in space.

Now, Orion has come close to the Moon in its orbit, and has sent back breathtaking photos of a side of the Moon we don’t really see. The Artemis missions will mostly be studying the dark side of the Moon, which we hardly ever get a good look at, at least not from Earth. But with these new photos, we get a close-up look at the Moon’s backside.

Orion was 81.1 miles above the lunar surface on Monday, Nov. 21, and sent back black and white snapshots of the Moon’s surface. On Friday, the spacecraft will perform a crucial maneuver that will send the capsule into high orbit around the Moon. It will remain in orbit for about a week before returning to Earth on Dec.11.

The photos are important not just because it’s cool to look at the Moon, but because Orion has been testing its optical navigation camera under different lighting conditions and at different phases of the Moon. According to NASA, this calibration will aid the crewed missions with spacecraft orientation.

NASA posted the photos on its Flickr account, where they are available to the public. Right now, Artemis I is an uncrewed test flight to gauge the readiness of the Orion spacecraft. Artemis II, expected around 2024, will have actual astronauts orbiting the Moon for the first time since 1972.

NASA Briefly Loses Connection With Orion Spacecraft During Engine Propulsion Maneuver

On Monday, Nov. 21, the Orion spacecraft conducted an engine propulsion maneuver, or an engine burn. Officially called a Trans Lunar Injection Burn, the spacecraft performed this first 87 minutes after launch while in Earth orbit to propel it toward the Moon. Then, it performed it again on Monday to get the spacecraft close enough to the Moon in order to use its gravitational pull to bring Orion around the Moon.

During this second burn, NASA lost contact with Orion for about 34 minutes while the spacecraft went around the furthest part of the Moon. That was expected. But, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, NASA lost contact with the spacecraft while the agency was reconfiguring the link between Orion and the Deep Space Network. They lost contact for about 47 minutes.

“The reconfiguration has been conducted successfully several times in the last few days, and the team is investigating the cause of the loss of signal,” NASA said in a statement. “The team resolved the issue with a reconfiguration on the ground side. Engineers are examining data from the event to help determine what happened, and the command and data handling officer will be downlinking data recorded onboard Orion during the outage to include in that assessment.”