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
The spacecraft was recovered by a team of Navy amphibious specialists and a mix of engineers and technicians from NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations program. Like the rest of EFT-1, this stage was a dry run for eventual crewed missions. Unlike the Apollo missions — which Orion has often been compared to — beleaguered astronauts won't be pulled onto rescue boats from the capsule at sea. Instead, Orion crew members will wait until they are in the well deck aboard the Anchorage before they are allowed out of the capsule. It's a process the Navy has been working on since 2013, one that is meant to take advantage of the breadth of medical facilities, helicopters, radar equipment, and boats that these landing platform-dock ships are equipped with.
Once Orion is back on US soil (the Anchorage is expected to make landfall with the high tide later this evening), it will begin a return journey on the back of a truck to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There, NASA will begin preparing it for its next (unmanned) space-bound test, currently scheduled for 2017.