It's been decades since a spacecraft rated to carry humans has taken a trip to the moon. NASA opened up a new era in space exploration with the Nov. 16 launch of the Artemis I mission, which sent the Orion spacecraft around the moon. The craft was uncrewed but was designed for human passengers.
Orion safely returned to Earth with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on Dec. 11. The successful trip sets the stage for Artemis II to carry astronauts into space.
This is what it's all about. A camera on the tip of one of Orion's solar arrays captured a combination spacecraft selfie and moon shot. One remarkable feature of this view is that it shows the far side of the moon. On Earth, we only see one face of the moon. Orion got to fly around the other side.
This is how it started. Before Orion could get up close and personal with the moon, it had to launch on NASA's massive Space Launch System rocket. Artemis I faced many delays and setbacks. This image shows the rocket's return to the launchpad at Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 4. Artemis I had spent time in a garage during Hurricane Ian, and later had to weather a second major storm when Hurricane Nicole hit the coast.
During the dark hours early in the morning on Nov. 16, NASA's Artemis I blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is taller than the Statue of Liberty and packs a wallop. SLS safely delivered the uncrewed Orion spacecraft to space.
You can never have too many views of an epic rocket launch. This artful black and white vision shows Artemis I taking off from Florida in the wee morning hours of Nov. 16, 2022.
NASA may have set its sights on the moon with Artemis I, but the heart of the mission is about humanity back on Earth. Orion captured a poignant view of its home planet as it headed for the moon.
This screenshot shared by the European Space Agency was one of Orion's first views of Earth after launch as seen by a camera mounted on a solar array wing.
Orion is stocked with multiple cameras both inside and out. They're used to document the journey and also to help NASA inspect the spacecraft. Orion experienced smooth sailing on its mission around the moon. It set out to prove the capsule is ready to carry humans on the next Artemis mission.
There were no humans on board Orion for the Artemis I mission, but there was plenty happening on the interior. Engineers activated a technology demonstration called Callisto, seen in the center of this image. Off to the left is a manikin named Moonikin Campos. Dressed in the same kind of spacesuit Artemis astronauts will wear, it will help NASA understand the forces and vibrations humans will experience on board.
The Callisto technology demonstration inside the Orion spacecraft was used to change the lighting. Callisto includes a version of Amazon's voice-operated Alexa assistant. Alexa also triggered an onboard party mode with flashing lights.
NASA's Orion spacecraft has an A+ selfie game. On Nov. 21, Orion zipped by the moon during a close approach maneuver that helped put it on track for its planned orbit. This view shows it heading toward our lunar neighbor.
On the sixth day of its flight test on the Artemis I mission, NASA's Orion spacecraft captured this gorgeous portrait of the moon in the distance.
"Orion uses the optical navigation camera to capture imagery of the Earth and the moon at different phases and distances, providing an enhanced body of data to certify its effectiveness under different lighting conditions as a way to help orient the spacecraft on future missions with crew," NASA said.
Orion's navigation camera took this starkly beautiful black and white portrait of Earth. It's not the fanciest image from the mission, but it places our planet in perspective against the wide darkness of space.
On Nov. 21, 2022, the Orion spacecraft got a close look at some of the moon's many craters. The view comes from the spacecraft's navigation camera, so it's in black and white and shows some camera artifacts in the form of striations.
"This photo and others captured are the closest photos of the Moon from a human-rated vessel since Apollo," said NASA.
Orion, the moon and Earth appeared together in a photo. This is from the 13th day of the spacecraft's flight.
On flight day 16, Orion captured a view of the back of its service module. The European Space Agency built the service module. The main engine and smaller thrusters help the spacecraft maneuver.
In the right light, Orion's solar arrays look both complex and beautiful. The moon appears down below. This image came as the spacecraft was getting ready for its return journey to Earth.
It's the trifecta. A camera on Orion captured a look at the spacecraft, the moon (looking huge and gray) and Earth (looking tiny and blue) peeking out.
How small is Earth compared with space? NASA's Orion spacecraft captured a distant view of its home planet during the Artemis I flight test. This image comes from a camera mounted at the tip of one of Orion's solar array wings. The spacecraft returned for a splashdown on Dec. 11.
On the 20th day of Orion's flight, the spacecraft slipped by the moon and snapped a series of stunning close-ups highlighting scenic craters.
Orion's flyby of the moon on its way produced some lovely looks at the satellite's surface.
A moon flyby on the way home for Orion gave the spacecraft a chance to capture the surface with its optical navigation camera.
The Artemis I Orion mission concluded on Dec. 11 when the spacecraft returned to Earth. It survived the blazing heat of atmospheric reentry and splashed down with an assist from a group of parachutes. The spacecraft was recovered from its landing spot in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.
Orion's parachute-assisted return to Earth landed it safely in the Pacific Ocean where it floated as the recovery crew came to retrieve it.
NASA's Artemis I moon mission ended in triumph as the USS Portland winched the spacecraft to safety after splashdown on Dec. 11. There's a lot of work ahead before Artemis II can carry astronauts into space, but the preliminary results point to Artemis I being a success. Orion will take a trip back to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for study and evaluation.