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Delta IV rocket, Orion
Image: Reuters/Steve Nesius

NASA launches Orion spaceship

December 5, 2014

US space agency NASA has succeeded in launching its Orion spaceship on a test flight after a failed first attempt. If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft may one day carry people to Mars.


NASA's Orion spaceship was successfully launched on a four-and a-half-hour test flight on Friday after poor weather conditions prevented a first attempt a day previously.

The rocket carrying the Orion capsule blasted off from Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of the US state of Florida at 7:05 a.m. local time (1205 UTC).

The unmanned test flight will aim to test the spacecraft's heat-shield system and parachute splashdown ahead of more ambitious planned space trips in the future.

Orion is meant to orbit Earth twice on its maiden flight: the first time at a distance of about 430 kilometers (270 miles) from the Earth's surface and the second time some 15 times further away, reaching an apogee of 5794 kilometers (3,600 miles) above our planet.

At the conclusion of the flight, Orion is intended to parachute into the sea off the coast of the US state of California, where the US Navy is set to retrieve it.

Mars, here we come?

The mission has been billed as NASA's first step toward a manned flight to Mars. Other projected missions include landings on the Moon or an asteroid.

The launch is the first in more than 40 years of a US spacecraft that is designed to take humans further than the Moon.

The US' human space exploration program had been on hold for more than three years, after the last American space shuttle transported a group of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2011. Since then, the US has paid Russia to carry astronauts to the ISS - at a cost of $71 million (57.45 million euros) per passage.

The price of the Orion program so far is $9.1 billion, with the total costs projected to reach $19-22 billion by 2021, the year that is scheduled to see Orion's first manned test flight.

tj/ksb (dpa, AFP)