Orion Travels Far, Returns Safely to Earth in 1st Test Flight

Orion, NASA’s new spacecraft built to carry humans beyond Earth’s orbit, launched on its first test flight early December 5.

After traveling farther than any vehicle built for humans has gone in more than 40 years, it successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Shown above is the view back toward Earth as the rocket climbed to orbit.

The 4.5-hour flight included two Earth orbits, the second of which took the unmanned Orion to an altitude of 5,800 kilometers. (The International Space Station orbits at 420 kilometers.) That altitude allowed a return through Earth’s atmosphere at 32,000 kilometers per hour and tested the heat shield at 2,200 degrees Celsius.

“Orion is back on Earth,” NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during live commentary. “America has driven a golden spike as it crosses a bridge into the future.” Plans call for Orion to carry humans to asteroids and Mars, expanding the realm of human knowledge.

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