NASA’s moon-gazing Artemis I mission is officially on its way home. Orion performed its last lunar flyby on Monday, setting it on course for a splashdown back on Earth on Dec. 11. The spacecraft captured a sci-fi-worthy view of the moon and Earth as it zipped by. You might see it and think it looks a little familiar, especially if you’re a Tom Hanks fan.
NASA shared live views of the flyby, but one shot in particular is making the rounds. It shows the moon looming large, Orion catching the light and a sliver of Earth in the distance. That’s not Mars you’re seeing as a red dot. It’s just a lens artifact.
Multiple space fans noticed the image’s resemblance to one of the main Apollo 13 movie posters, which shows the Apollo spacecraft and a similarly large moon with Earth appearing near its curvature.
The 1995 Ron Howard-helmed blockbuster film starred Hanks and portrayed the harrowing journey of the 1970 moon mission that went awry. The crew aborted a planned lunar landing to deal with an oxygen tank failure. The astronauts survived the danger and returned safely.
The Hollywood Apollo 13 poster reads, “Houston, we have a problem.” Fortunately, Artemis I hasn’t had to echo that famous line all these decades later. The new mission hasn’t been flawless, but it has gone remarkably smoothly.
Orion launched in a blaze of glory last month with an assist from the massive Space Launch System rocket. It’s since taken a trip out past the moon and back as NASA tests the spacecraft’s systems in preparation for a future crewed Artemis mission.
The images from the journey have been a highlight. There are cameras mounted on the ends of Orion’s solar arrays, which have delivered some spectacular selfies along with scenic views of Earth and the moon.
While there’s been much to celebrate so far, one of Orion’s biggest tests will happen when it gets back to its home planet and aims for the ocean. It’s one thing to get off this rock and go for a jaunt around the moon. It’s another to get home safe. Apollo 13 managed the feat against great odds. Now it’s time for the first human-rated spacecraft of the modern moon exploration era to show us what it’s got.