Fact check: Artemis I launch trajectory due to planned orbit around the Earth

The claim: Post implies the curved flight path of Artemis I is proof the mission is fake

The NASA Orion spacecraft launched into the sky on Nov. 16 as part of the Artemis I mission, the first step in NASA's plan to send humans back to the moon.

As the spacecraft blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, onlookers took photos of its flight path through the sky. To some people's surprise, the rocket's path appeared to be curving around the Earth instead of heading directly toward the moon.

More: See the first photo of Earth from NASA's moon-bound Orion spacecraft

One Facebook post used these images to suggest the mission was a hoax. The Nov. 16 post (direct link, archive link) shows two photos of the spacecraft seemingly falling short of the moon, with the second including an arrow pointing at the moon. It then includes three photos of a man appearing to look at something in disbelief.

The post was shared more than 400 times in two weeks.

"The earth is not a globe," reads the caption of one iteration of the post that was shared on Instagram (direct link, archive link) and liked more than 200 times in less than two weeks. "We've been lied to on a massive scale. Look around and observe. Most people have been through 13 years or more of government indoctrination camp brainwashing."

Others commented things like, "They missed the moon! Again!” and “Man everything is fake.”

This implied claim here is wrong.

The mission is real, and the Orion's flight path was intentional, experts said. The spacecraft made an orbit around the Earth before heading towards the moon.

Users who shared the post could not be reached for comment.

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Orbit around the Earth planned for years

The map for the Artemis I mission was first posted on the NASA website in February 2018. It depicts the spacecraft making an orbit around the Earth before heading in the direction of the moon. This is why the flight path looks curved in the photos included in the Facebook post.

Experts said the move is routine for spacecraft seeking to reach the moon.

"It's very common for a spacecraft to do half an orbit or many orbits before they" set a trajectory for the moon, said Hank Pernicka, the director of Missouri Science and Technology's space systems engineering laboratory.

The orbit also allowed time for systems checks. It would be easier to fix any problems before setting a course for the moon, Pernicka said.

The timing of the launch was based on the Earth's rotation, Orion's performance limitations and the Moon's orbit, said Rachel Kraft, a communications specialist with NASA.

She, like Pernicka, also said the orbit around Earth allows additional time for testing on the spacecraft.

"We orbit Earth to fully check out our environmental control and lift support systems before we commit to maneuvers that send Orion on a trajectory toward the Moon," Kraft said.

This is especially important to test before the launch of Artemis II, which will have astronauts on board, she said.

Artemis II is scheduled to launch in 2024. NASA's website states the Artemis mission seeks to bring the first woman and person of color to the moon.

Images and videos related to the Artemis I mission can be found on NASA's website.

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the implication that the curved flight path of Artemis I proves the mission is fake. The Orion spacecraft intentionally orbited the Earth before setting course for the moon, which accounts for its curved flight path. This practice is common and the maneuver was agreed upon years ago.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Artemis I spacecraft intentionally orbited the Earth