NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion capsule has now traveled farther beyond Earth than any spacecraft designed to carry astronauts.
The unmanned Orion flew the record distance (opens in a new tab) made by the Apollo 13 “Odyssey” command module at 248,655 miles from Earth (216,075 nautical miles or 400,171 kilometers) at approximately 8:40 a.m. EST (1340 GMT) on Saturday, November 26.
The Apollo 13 spacecraft previously set the record on April 14, 1970 at 7:21 p.m. EST (0021 GMT on April 15).
“He didn’t record [with] me then. We were so busy with our heads down that we just didn’t have time to think about it,” said Gerry Griffin, a former flight director who helped lead mission control during the Apollo 13 mission, in a statement. NASA-led Twitter Spaces Roundtable (opens in a new tab) Tuesday (November 22). “In fact, until about a year ago, I had no idea that we got the farthest from Earth on Apollo 13. I thought we did on another mission.”
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Live Updates
After: 10 unusual facts about the Artemis 1 lunar mission
The original Apollo 13 flight plan did not have the spacecraft traveling that far. As is now widely known (after being portrayed in a 1995 Hollywood film), the mission suddenly went from targeting a moon landing to safely returning astronauts to Earth after a mid-flight explosion ripped through the vehicle service module.
Apollo 13 reached the distance it reached because there was an urgent need to use the moon’s gravity to launch the spacecraft to Earth as quickly and safely as possible.
Similarly, Artemis 1’s flight profile was not designed specifically to break the Apollo 13 record. It only did so because NASA sent the Orion capsule into a distant retrograde lunar orbit.
“Artemis 1 was designed to stress Orion’s systems and we went to far retrograde orbit as a really good way to do that,” said Jim Geffre, Orion spacecraft integration manager at NASA. . “It so happened that with this very large orbit, at high altitude above the moon, we were able to exceed the record of Apollo 13. But what was most important was to push the limits of the exploration and sending spacecraft further than we have ever done before.”
Orion did not stop at the distance of Apollo 13. NASA expects the Artemis 1 capsule to reach a maximum distance from Earth of 268,553 miles (432,194 km) at 4:06 p.m. EST (21 h 06 GMT) on Monday, November 28. From there, it will continue to travel halfway around the moon until its orbital maneuvering system engine starts. (opens in a new tab) leave far retrograde orbit, establishing its second close pass to the lunar surface (opens in a new tab) on December 5, followed by his return to Earth on December 11.
Related: The Apollo Program: How NASA Sent Astronauts to the Moon
The Apollo 13 record isn’t the only link between Artemis 1 and the 1970 mission.
Although Orion has no crew, it uses instrumented dummies to measure the radiation exposure and stresses a crew member would experience on a return flight to the Moon. One of the replacements, the only full body example, was named “Commander Moonikin Campos” (opens in a new tab) after the late Arturo Campos, who during the Apollo 13 mission wrote the emergency procedures to transfer power from the Apollo lunar module batteries to the command module, allowing Odyssey to have enough electricity to achieve a splash in safely (opens in a new tab).
Campos, who died in 2004, was the manager of the lunar module’s electrical power subsystem, and his colleagues in the mission evaluation room and the mission operations control room received the Presidential Medal of freedom for their efforts.
Since “Moonikin Campos” is not a real person, the Apollo 13 astronauts (opens in a new tab) – James Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert – still hold the Guinness World Record (opens in a new tab) for the “farthest distance from Earth reached by humans” at 248,655 miles (400,171 km). That could change, however, when NASA launches its next Artemis mission – the first to carry astronauts – tentatively scheduled for 2024.
“We may or may not break Apollo 13’s manned flight distance record, but we won’t know until after launch,” NASA public affairs specialist Laura Rochon told collectSPACE.com. “Artemis 2 is a high Earth orbit, followed by a round-trip free flyby of the moon. The Earth-Moon distance is between 221,500 miles at perigee and 252,700 at apogee. [356,500 to 407,700 km]; flyover altitudes vary from approximately 4,000 to 12,000 miles [6,400 to 19,000 km] on the other side of the moon, so the total could be around 225,500 to 265,000 miles [363,000 to 426,500 km] depending on launch date.
There is a NASA spacecraft that once carried a crew and has since traveled far beyond the Apollo 13 distance from Earth, having entered a heliocentric orbit. The Apollo 10 lunar module (“Snoopy (opens in a new tab)“) the ascent stage would be the record holder today if it had been designed to carry humans to the Sun and had not been put into disposal orbit after its end of use by the Apollo 10 crew, according to NASA.
collectSPACE is grateful to the film and television company Digital Haviland (opens in a new tab) for supporting our Artemis I cover. Their team produced and supported titles such as “Last Man on the Moon”, “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” and “Armstrong”.
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