NASA's Orion spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit on Friday, as it neared the halfway mark of its test flight.
About ten days after the spacecraft blasted off from Florida bound for the moon, flight controllers "successfully performed a burn to insert Orion into a distant retrograde orbit," NASA said on its web site.
According to the US space agency, Orion will fly about 40,000 miles (64,400 kilometers) above the moon.
Checking key systems
Orion is expected to take astronauts to the moon in the years to come. This first test flight without a crew on board is intended to ensure the safety of the vehicle.
While in lunar orbit, flight controllers will monitor Orion's key systems and perform checks while in the environment of deep space, NASA said.
The spacecraft will reach a maximum distance of almost 270,000 miles (432,000 kilometers) from the Earth in a few days. That will set a new distance record for a capsule designed to carry people.
It will take the capsule about a week to perform a half orbit around the moon, after which it will exit the lunar orbit again to begin its return to the Earth.
Back to the moon
Orion's landing in the Pacific Ocean is scheduled for December 11, after just over 25 days of flight.
The success of this mission will determine the future of the Artemis 2 mission, which aims to take astronauts around the moon without landing in 2024.
It will be followed by the Artemis 3 mission, which is expected to finally mark the return of humans to the lunar surface in 2025.
NASA aims to land US astronauts on the moon again for the first time in almost 50 years. The US sent 12 astronauts to the moon between 1969 and 1972.
dh/jsi (AP, AFP, dpa)