NASA’s Artemis 1 spacecraft flies past the Moon with the Apollo 11 probe on board

Four small pieces of the moon aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft have come closer to the moon’s surface than they have in more than 50 years since they were collected.

The returning lunar samples home (opens in a new tab) — or at least their quick flight over the world they came from — was part of a larger journey to prepare humans for the same. A square of dust particles that were first brought to Earth Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969 approached within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of month on Monday (November 21) as part of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission.

While the inclusion of lunar material at Orion capsule linked the Apollo and Artemis missions. (opens in a new tab)the close flyby of Earth’s natural satellite served the more important purpose of harnessing the Moon’s gravitational pull to guide the spacecraft toward a far-off retrograde lunar orbit.

The successful maneuver was only the second time a lunar sampler visited the Moon. Previously, the breed, obtained in Apollo 12 astronauts flew on Apollo 16 as part of a study of the moon’s magnetic field in 1972.

Seconds in space

The four Apollo 11 lunar samples flown on Artemis I are embedded in what NASA calls a “button,” a small lucite bubble.

“For Apollo 11, we had models of good will (opens in a new tab). They were separate, larger than 2 millimeters [0.08-inch] fragments separated from the largest soil collected on Apollo 11, and they were donated to every country and every state. They earned more than they paid, and there were four or five left. This is one of the remnants,” Ryan Zeigler, curator of Apollo samples at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told

An example of a NASA-prepared lucite “button” containing Apollo 11 lunar soil samples. One of those buttons revisited the Moon aboard NASA’s Artemis I Orion spacecraft. (Image:

The 0.002 ounces (0.05 grams) of Apollo 11 lunar dust inside the button is a tiny percentage of the 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar material returned during the first lunar landing mission. If Artemis program successful in establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon, then the total samples from the six Apollo lunar landing missions may someday constitute a small percentage of the lunar rock on Earth.

The Artemis 1 mission is the second time this particular button has been launched back into space. This is also the second flight of these Apollo 11 samples aboard the Orion spacecraft. The same lucite dust from the Tranquility base flew aboard for the first time Research Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) (opens in a new tab) in 2014. During this mission, Orion rose to a high Earth orbit before plunging back to the planet and splashing down.

The button on Artemis 1 is also the second Apollo 11 specimen currently in space. Another show of goodwill aboard the International Space Station (opens in a new tab) since 2010 as a board that combines it with stone collected from the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth.

For a month

Orion entered the Moon’s sphere of influence at 14:09 EST (1909 GMT) on Sunday (November 20), five days into a 25-day mission (opens in a new tab), the transition from Earth to the Moon is its main gravitational attraction. The spacecraft performed a trajectory correction overnight and then launched orbital maneuvering system engine (opens in a new tab) for two minutes and 30 seconds at 7:44 a.m. EST (1244 GMT) on Monday to accelerate the flyby.

The closest approach came after 11 and a half minutes.

Earth and the Moon as seen by NASA’s Artemis I Orion spacecraft as it approaches the Moon on Monday, November 21, 2022. (Image: NASA)

“We will be flying over some of the Apollo landing sites,” NASA Artemis 1 flight manager Jeff Redigan said at a pre-flight press briefing in response to a question from collectSPACE. Apollo sites 11, 12 and 14, or near them. Unfortunately, they will be in the dark, they won’t be illuminated by the sun, so we won’t get a very good video of them. But we will definitely be close to history if we make a power flyby.”

As expected, communication with Orion was lost for 34 minutes starting at 7:26 a.m. EST (12:26 GMT) as the spacecraft passed behind the moon. The Goldstone Ground Station in southern California, which is part of the Deep Space Network, recovered Orion’s signal as soon as it left the far side.

Orion will enter its far retrograde orbit on Friday (November 25). A day later, he will pass the distance record set in Apollo 13 mission in 1970, when it reaches its maximum distance from Earth, approximately 268,554 miles (432,194 km), on November 28.

Orion — and its Apollo 11 payload — will make another close flyby of the moon on its way back to Earth on Dec. 5. The Artemis I mission will end in six days when it approaches the Pacific Ocean on December 11.

Follow through on Facebook and on Twitter at @collect space. Copyright 2022 All rights reserved. NASA’s Artemis 1 spacecraft flies past the Moon with the Apollo 11 probe on board

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