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Fact Check-Lengthier Artemis I trajectory toward Moon compared to Apollo 11 is not proof that space travel is a hoax

The Artemis I mission took a different, less direct route toward the Moon compared to the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. The Artemis I lengthier trajectory is not proof of inferior technology, nor is it proof that space travel is a hoax, despite claims made online.

Social media users shared a meme claiming to show the number of days it took for the Apollo 11 spacecraft to reach the Moon compared to the November 2022 Artemis I mission. Text above the comparison reads: “They just don’t make rockets like they use [sic] to.”

Reuters detected the meme shared in groups promoting conspiracy theories about a flat Earth, with some commenters suggesting that space travel is a hoax.

Examples of the claim can be found (here), (here) and (here).

Indeed, per NASA, it took just over three days for Apollo 11 to complete the first lunar orbit insertion maneuver, flying behind the Moon and briefly out of contact with Earth (here) and over four days post launch when the spacecraft landed on the Moon.

The Orion spacecraft as part of November’s Artemis I mission passed behind the Moon on Nov 21, about five days post launch (here).

The difference in timings between the Artemis I mission, and Apollo 11 is not proof that the modern technology used in the latter mission is inferior to decades-old alternatives, nor is it proof of conspiracy theory narratives that space flight is a hoax.

“I think the fundamental point is that by comparing Artemis to Apollo, it’s a false comparison. They are different missions, different programmes with different purposes,” John M. Logsdon, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at the Space Policy Institute, George Washington University, told Reuters.

Those involved with the Artemis program plan to eventually establish a long-term lunar base, with further plans for human voyage to Mars, with the Artemis I mission testing the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket prior to a crewed mission aboard the spacecraft (here).

The Artemis I Orion capsule travelled 40,000 miles past the moon to deep space, the farthest any spacecraft designed to safely carry humans has ever travelled, where a key objective is to test technology for human travel beyond the Moon (here).

Before the mission launch, NASA outlined that mannequins would be on the spacecraft equipped with sensors to test radiation levels in deep space (here).

This compares to Apollo 11, where the main objective was to complete a crewed lunar landing (here).

Meanwhile, the basic cause in different timings when comparing the two missions was caused by differing chosen trajectories, Douglas Cooke, former NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate told Reuters.

A graphic released by NASA showing the Apollo 11 flight trajectory can be viewed (here), with the Artemis I trajectory viewable (here).

“The primary factor in leaving Earth and travelling to the Moon is reaching escape velocity to escape Earth’s gravity. This was provided early in both missions by the launch vehicle and upper stage(s),” Cooke told Reuters.

Both the Saturn V rocket used during Apollo 11 and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in use during Artemis I accomplished this early in the missions, putting the vehicle on a path out of Earth. However, the trajectory chosen after will determine the length of time it will take to reach the Moon, Cooke added.

“The Apollo 11 mission had a very direct path to a low lunar orbit to deliver the crew to the lunar surface. The Artemis trajectory is a more looping trajectory to reach a very different high lunar orbit to prove out other orbit possibilities. This would account for the different timing,” he added.

The Artemis I utilized a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) which refers to the spacecraft orbiting the Moon at high altitude in a direction opposite to the direction that the Moon travels around Earth (here).

“Additionally, the DRO takes the Orion capsule farther from the Earth than any other moon mission so it will be exposed to more hazards like radiation,” Wendy N. Whitman Cobb, Associate Professor of Strategy and Security Studies at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, told Reuters, adding that due to its distance, “when it comes back to Earth, it will be travelling at a high velocity so NASA will be able to test the heat shields on the capsule to a higher degree as it reenters the atmosphere.”

VERDICT

Missing context. Apollo 11 and Artemis I took different trajectories toward the Moon, with the latter taking a loop around the Moon to take it to deep space before looping back to Earth with objectives including the testing of the spacecraft against intense radiation. This compares to Apollo 11 where the core objective was to complete a crewed lunar landing, where the spacecraft took a more direct approach to the Moon.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here.

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