NASA Launches First Orion Deep-Space Capsule in Historic Test Flight


It’s the test flight NASA has been waiting for. After a scrapped launch attempt Thursday (Dec. 4), NASA’s new Orion capsule, designed to help deliver humans to deep space destinations like Mars someday, has just launched on its rigorous first test flight.

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket (the most powerful rocket currently flying from Earth) roared to life, launching the unmanned Orion space capsule from a pad here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:05 a.m. EST (1205 GMT) today (Dec. 5). The prototype spacecraft is now embarking on a series of tests in orbit before its planned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at about 11:30 a.m. EST (1630 GMT), 4.5 hours after leaving the planet. You can continue watching live coverage of the Orion test on, courtesy of NASA TV.

“We’re actually excited about this particular step on our journey to the Red Planet, to Mars,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden told members of the press Wednesday (Dec. 3), before launch. “It is a journey. I don’t want people to get focused on the destination. This is a journey.” [NASA’s Orion Test Flight: Full Coverage]

This morning’s launch was originally scheduled for 24 hours earlier, but several issues — including a boat downrange of Cape Canaveral, strong ground-level winds and the failure of several “fill and drain” valves on the Delta 4 Heavy to close all the way — pushed things back a day.