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A test of the Orion abort system. Photo: NASA/Tony Gray and Kevin O'Connell

The Orion spacecraft — designed to bring astronauts to deep space destinations — is slowly but surely preparing for its first mission to the Moon.

Why it matters: Orion is a major part of NASA's Artemis plans, which are expected to bring astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

Driving the news: The spacecraft passed a key test last week: NASA staged a test of the capsule's abort system, which is designed to pull a crew away from a failing rocket in the moments after launch.

  • That in-flight abort — which NASA says was a success — marks one of Orion's final major milestones ahead of its first crewed mission to the Moon.

Details: The next big test for Orion will be what's known as the Artemis-1 mission, when the capsule — sans astronauts — and huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket fly together for the first time.

  • For that mission — formerly called Exploration Mission-1 — NASA is planning to send Orion on a trip around the Moon and back to Earth, testing the systems the craft will need in space.
  • The first crewed Orion mission is planned for 2022, with the 2024 landing to follow.
  • For the 2024 mission, Orion is expected to fly to the Moon and dock with NASA's yet-to-be-built Gateway space station in lunar orbit. From there, astronauts delivered to Gateway will descend to the Moon's surface aboard a lander.

Yes, but: While Artemis-1 is expected to fly as soon as next year, the timeline is in doubt due to serious delays with both Orion and SLS, leaving little room for further setbacks if NASA intends to meet its 2024 deadline.

Go deeper

Anti-abortion activists' Supreme Court dreams are coming true

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This is the moment the conservative legal movement has been building toward for decades: The solidly conservative Supreme Court is about to hear two major abortion cases within a month of each other.

Why it matters: All of this is likely to end with significant new restrictions on abortion and a clear path for Republican-led states to win the next big abortion cases, too — the culmination of a long and bitter fight for control of the judiciary.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Trump's volatile return to the stock market

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals 

Donald Trump this week became both a meme stock and a social-media entrepreneur at the same time, by announcing that a new company called Trump Media & Technology Group was going to merge with an existing company listed on the stock market.

Why it matters: The medium-term promise of Trump's media company is that it will replace Twitter for anybody wanting to keep track of Trump's messages. The short-term promise is that it can be a hot new speculative vehicle for people wanting to get rich quick in the stock market.

Updated 11 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.