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NASA's test flight of the Orion spacecraft is a success

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Get all the updates on the very first test flight of the spacecraft that could take the first people to Mars.

  • Sean O'Kane

    Dec 8, 2014

    Sean O'Kane

    The Navy retrieved Orion from the ocean and is bringing it home to NASA

    After its first launch attempt was delayed and eventually aborted last Thursday, NASA's Orion spacecraft finally left Earth on Friday for Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) before successfully splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. Despite the initial troubles, the capsule — which could eventually take humans to both an asteroid or the surface of Mars — passed this first major test with flying colors. Now the United States Navy, which was in charge of recovering the craft, has released this photo of Orion's journey back to land. It shows the capsule inside a flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage after it was towed in by four smaller boats on Friday afternoon some 600 miles off the coast of San Diego.

    Naval crew during the initial recovery. Photo courtesy of NASA

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  • From scrubbed launch to successful splashdown: NASA's Orion test flight in photos

    After a series of cancelled launches yesterday, Orion's first test flight launched smoothly at 7:05AM ET. It attained low Earth orbit at 7:30AM, and reached an apogee of 3,600 miles from the Earth. That's the farthest any capsule designed for a crew has been since the Apollo mission. Orion re-entered the atmosphere at a screaming 20,000 miles per hour, before its 11 parachutes deployed to slow the craft to 20 miles per hour — the speed at which it hit the water in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California. Here are some of the photos from its 4 hour and 24 minute flight.

    "It turned out to be the most perfect flight you could imagine," said Rob Navias, NASA TV commentator, after Orion landed in the Pacific Ocean.

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  • Danielle Venton

    Dec 5, 2014

    Danielle Venton

    How did Orion withstand temperatures twice the melting point of steel?

    An animation of Orion's return through the atmosphere
    An animation of Orion's return through the atmosphere

    In Florida, at the Kennedy Space Center, Molly White is cheering with her sister. Today the two space enthusiasts watched gleefully as the Orion spacecraft rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, circled Earth twice, and splashed down off the coast of Baja California in the Pacific Ocean at 10:29AM Eastern. A product of years of work and anticipation, the uncrewed Orion Exploration Test Flight-1 took exactly 4 hours and 24 minutes. And White, an aerospace engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was crucial to making it all work.

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  • NASA's Orion test flight splashes down off Baja California

    After a smooth launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral, Orion splashed down at 11:29AM Eastern time, west of Baja California, in the Pacific Ocean. Orion's two loops around Earth got as high as 3,600 miles— about 15 times higher than the International Space Station and the highest any spacecraft made for people has gone in decades.

    "It’s hard to have a better day than today," said Mark Geyer, NASA's Orion program manager, in a press conference following the craft's return.

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  • First test flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft launches successfully

    Today, after saying goodbye to Florida, Orion will speed to some 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface on its second orbit around the planet, 15 times higher than the ISS. And it will re-enter the atmosphere at 20,000 miles per hour, about the speed of a craft returning from the moon, and its heat shields will be tested by temperatures of approximately 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The launch was scrubbed yesterday after a series of delays, but today its flight went off without a hitch. While Orion is un-crewed this morning — though it will be carrying a cookie from Sesame Street's Cookie Monster — it's meant to carry people to space. This morning, it launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket — a main rocket with two boosters. But it will eventually go atop an even more powerful rocket, the Space Launch System; the rocket and capsule program, taken together, are expected to cost $19 billion to $22 billion. This test is, ultimately, a step toward Mars.

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  • Watch the second launch attempt of NASA's new Orion spacecraft

    NASA is making a second attempt at an uncrewed test flight of its new Orion spacecraft today, after yesterday's launch was scrubbed. The test flight will begin with a sunrise liftoff — should all go well, of course. Orion is the most ambitious spacecraft since its lookalike Apollo. If NASA is successful, ultimately Orion could be used to ferry people to Mars in the coming decades. Today there are no people aboard, though some important cargo is: a cookie from Sesame Street's Cookie Monster.

    Yesterday was the first attempt at a launch, but it was ultimately unsuccessful as a series of attempted launches were aborted — first, for a boat in a launch area, then wind, and finally, when a valve malfunctioned.

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