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Orion Test Orbit Around Earth Underway After a Delayed Thursday Launch

Image: Orion Test Orbit Around Earth Underway After a Delayed Thursday Launch
The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft takes off from its launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 05 Dec 2014 11:13 AM

Orion finally launched on Friday morning, bound for a 4-and-a-half hour whirlwind test flight around the Earth just a day after the unmanned rocket blastoff was scrapped because of technical issues and weather concerns.

The huge Orion rocket, seen as the vehicle of choice for one day taking men to Mars, will undergo a series of tests in space as guided by NASA ground crews, ABC News reported. The Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral at 7:05 a.m. EST.

"This capsule shape facilitates deep space exploration," Kelly Smith, the trajectory officer for Orion, told ABC News. "The shuttle could never return from deep space locations. It could not withstand the extreme G loads and heating. Orion has been designed for those challenging environments."



Orion is on schedule to circle the Earth twice at an altitude of 3,600 miles and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean, some 600 miles off the coast of San Diego, around 11:30 a.m. EST.

Long-range plans are for Orion to first bring man first back to the moon and then on a historic trip to Mars, NASA officials told ABC News.

NASA kept audiences updated Friday morning as Orion advanced through its early stages of flight.

"The Delta IV Heavy second stage has completed its second engine burn to send Orion on its way to its peak altitude of 3,600 miles from Earth," NASA posted on on its website at 9:42 a.m. "The spacecraft will soon enter the first of two periods of radiation in the lower Van Allen Belt, in which its cameras are turned off for a period of time to protect them from damage."

Reaching the 3,600-mile point above Earth is important in this stress test because it's 15 times higher than the International Space Station and farther out than a spacecraft intended to carry people has flown in decades, according to Florida Today.

"It is a big deal," said Mike Hawes, Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin and NASA's lead contractor on the spacecraft. "This is the first human-rated spacecraft that's gone beyond (low Earth orbit) in 42 years."

That will allow the capsule's heat shield to be tested for future manned flights to the moon and, potentially, Mars.

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Orion finally launched on Friday morning, bound for a 4-and-a-half hour whirlwind test flight around the Earth just a day after the unmanned rocket blastoff was scrapped because of technical issues and weather concerns.
orion, launch, nasa, rocket, orbit, earth
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2014-13-05
Friday, 05 Dec 2014 11:13 AM
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