NASA Launches Orion Spacecraft

NASA Launches Orion SpacecraftNASA Launches Orion Spacecraft

NASA's new Orion spacecraft lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral and rocketed to orbit Friday morning; the first test flight for a program that NASA hopes eventually will get astronauts to asteroids and Mars, CNN said in a report.

The 4½-hour, uncrewed, two-orbit flight is taking Orion farther from Earth than any craft designed for human flight has been since the Apollo 17 mission to the moon in 1972.

"The launch itself (was) just a blast," NASA Orion program manager Mark Geyer said on NASA TV shortly after liftoff.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off at 7:05 local time and put the capsule and the rocket's second stage into low-Earth orbit less than 20 minutes later. The second stage lifted Orion higher for its second orbit, expected to be nearly 5,800 kilometers above Earth, or 15 times higher than the International Space Station.

Orion was expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 965 kilometers off the coast of Baja California, about 4½ hours after launch. The re-entry will be an important test for Orion's heat shield. The craft is expected to hit speeds of more than 20,000 miles per hour before re-entering the atmosphere.

The launch comes a day after NASA scrubbed its first attempt because of a failure of some valves in the boosters to close. Those valves, which allow fuel to flow into the boosters before launch, are supposed to close just before liftoff. Orion is expected to send back some amazing pictures of Earth, NASA said. If the weather cooperates, NASA said a drone will provide a live video feed of the splashdown.

Orion would have a role in NASA's planned exploration of an asteroid -- perhaps one that the agency would first robotically redirect to orbit around the moon. NASA says it hopes that Orion, pushed by a more powerful rocket system under development, will send astronauts to an asteroid in the 2020s.