NASA took another step closer to returning America to deep space December 5 with the test launch of the Orion spacecraft. Orion’s Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) launched Friday just after 7 a.m. from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and carried with it the potential to re-ignite America’s engagement in space travel as the rocket lifted off the pad.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft will launch atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for Exploration Mission 1 in 2018, sending astronauts to an asteroid and onward to Mars. Boeing is building the core stages and avionics for the SLS, integrating the vehicle with the Orion to eventually carry crew and cargo as far as Mars.
Thousands of onlookers gathered from all over the world to watch the Orion test flight in person, eager to see the first launch in more than 40 years of a vehicle designed for human travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It fires the imagination of young and old, offering possibilities that scientists and engineers are working every day to bring to reality.
Orion launched, without crew, on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and splashed down off the California coast hours later. During its 4.5 hour trip, Orion orbited Earth twice and travelled to an altitude of 3,600 miles into space to test the elements that pose the greatest risk to astronauts, providing critical data needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to future mission crews.