NASA Takes Big Step Toward Deep Space Exploration

Orion splashed down safely in the Pacific after its first test flight. (Credit: NASA)
Orion splashed down safely in the Pacific after its first test flight. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA marked a major milestone Friday on its journey to Mars as the Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space, traveling farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years.

“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”

Orion blazed into the morning sky at 7:05 a.m. EST, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. The Orion crew module splashed down approximately 4.5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

During the uncrewed test, Orion traveled twice through the Van Allen belt where it experienced high periods of radiation, and reached an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth. Orion also hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it entered Earth’s atmosphere.

Orion will open the space between Earth and Mars for exploration by astronauts. This proving ground will be invaluable for testing capabilities future human Mars missions will need. The spacecraft was tested in space to allow engineers to collect critical data to evaluate its performance and improve its design. The flight tested Orion’s heat shield, avionics, parachutes, computers and key spacecraft separation events, exercising many of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will travel in Orion.

On future missions, Orion will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket currently being developed at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. A 70 metric-ton (77 ton) SLS will send Orion to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on Exploration Mission-1 in the first test of the fully integrated Orion and SLS system.

“We really pushed Orion as much as we could to give us real data that we can use to improve Orion’s design going forward,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “In the coming weeks and months we’ll be taking a look at that invaluable information and applying lessons learned to the next Orion spacecraft already in production for the first mission atop the Space Launch System rocket.”

A team of NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin personnel aboard the USS Anchorage are in the process of recovering Orion and will return it to U.S. Naval Base San Diego in the coming days. Orion will then be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be processed. The crew module will be refurbished for use in Ascent Abort-2 in 2018, a test of Orion’s launch abort system.

Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, began manufacturing the Orion crew module in 2011 and delivered it in July 2012 to the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Facility at Kennedy where final assembly, integration and testing were completed. More than 1,000 companies across the country manufactured or contributed elements to Orion.

For more information about Orion, its flight test and the Journey to Mars, visit:


  • Matt

    Dear US space-cadets, please prevent leftist Hillary (yes that crazy woman), also due other reasons as space!! I think also that ORION shall limited to escape and reentry purpose. In addition, a true interplanetary spacecraft is needed (at best with nuclear-thermal propulsion, rotating, habitat, …). I do not understand why USA needs three capsules at ones, after years of no own spacecraft. I would have built a basic capsule design in different modifications, which can serve as LEO as well as above described reentry and rescue BEO capsule.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    “big step forward” A capsule landed in the ocean….I think we should save the “big step forward” headline for when Dragon 2 lands under it’s own power, on land.

  • How can labeling a $10 billion dollar test flight of sub-standard space hardware after a nine year wait – a fraud – look foolish?

    America and NASA look foolish. Sooner or later this will either change radically, or stop abruptly. Some Americans wish that sooner, rather than later, and another $20 billion down the drain. Speaking up never looks foolish in America, rather remaining silent or going along with a fraud makes one look more the fool.

    America is getting burned by an elaborate NASA Ponzi scheme.

  • windbourne

    First off, Obama would kill SLS and orion if he could. The GOP required them as part of a deal to keep private space alive.

    The next admin may have the capability to kill SLS, but it will require FH flying and bfr plans fully announced and showing promise. Otherwise, SLS will continue.

  • Jim R

    Not true, Dragon V1 and previous phases of V2 design are done under Space Act Agreement, where NASA has no veto on designs. They can only negotiate with SpaceX with regard to design, what SpaceX says goes. This is completely different from the FAR process used in other NASA spaceships where what NASA says goes.

  • Jim R

    It would take some time, but that end goal is no longer a dream, we can see how it could play out in the next few years. And this is not just happening in NASA, it’s happening else where too, design by committee (or congress) is going to die.

  • Jim R

    Moon rover is not easy, ask the Chinese. And yes, fund raising is part of the game, the prize is never designed to cover the cost, the teams are supposed to build something that can be commercialized, that’s how they can get additional funding.

  • Michael J. Listner

    People in the space advocacy arena who consistently run around and yell “fraud” at every government program are like the little boy who cried wolf: eventually people stop, listen, shake their heads and move on or eventually just stop listening all together because they realize they are more interested in attracting attention to themselves than they are to the issue at hand. For me, I am at the latter.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Why would SpaceX have to demonstrate the fairing on the FH? The whole vehicle stack from the interstage up is identical to the current F9 stack.

  • Dude, the entire Apollo moon program was executed in the time it took NASA to lob a solid twenty miles into the air and then five year later lob an overweight underperforming unmanned capsule 3000 miles up and then into the ocean.

    For $20 billion dollars not only do I expect more, I could do more. This is not only a huge fraud, but farce and incompetence of the highest order. Boondoggle is not an adequate description. And furthermore, I could care less if I am ignored. It hasn’t stopped me from performing all due diligence in this matter and it certainly won’t stop me from continuing criticism and due diligence. This is what Americans do when they’re pissed.

    Anybody who thinks Americans are going to throw another $100 billion dollars at this kind of non-performance is just plain crazy.

    Already the natives are getting restless. Congress is corrupt.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Oh good grief. Any response that starts with “dude” definitely loses my attention.

  • I’m not making a nuisance of myself here for your benefit.

    You are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  • ThomasLMatula


    Building a rover to survive the Lunar night is not easy, building one to last the short time needed for the Google X-Prize is within the skill set of any good college team. I know, I used to work on the ASCE lunar robotics challenges in the 1990’s. Its getting through the lunar night without a RTG that is the barrier.

    As for commercialization, if a firm could rise a $100 million they would be a fool to get involved in the Google Lunar X-Prize since they are required to share any media revenue generated, which is likely to be the major revenue source for the first mission, with the other teams and of course the X-Prize Foundation.

    That is why if you really want to maximize your ROI as a team you just pretend to be in competition, robots and press releases are cheap, as are websites, then just wait for someone else to spend the money needed to win and take your share of the media money. The question is which team is going to be the Little Red Hen and win it so everyone else in the “barnyard” has the money to divide up 🙂

    It is actually an interesting problem in game theory…

    So any surprise with all the noise no team is doing what is actually needed, seeking the licenses and permits needed and/or reserving launch vehicles?

  • Michael J. Listner

    Whatever floats your boat.

  • You can go over to NASAWatch where you will observe your typical NASA koolaide drinker / rabid Constellation et al. supporter claim they work for NASA, unfamiliar with even the basic specs of the system, unable to convert British units to metric, make wild untrue claims, and get snippy when corrected and then claim space, science and technology realists are getting snippy for correcting them on their deficient understanding of the issues and gross misrepresentations.

    I’m just an interested observer nowadays, I rarely comment anymore except directly into print or on the occasion of some event. Clearly the system is broken.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Well, golly gee, thank you for gracious leave for me to go over to NASA watch.

  • It’s more interesting than a congressional hearing where the main actor declines to appear so as not to cause a ruckus.

    Fireworks averted!

  • SpaceTech

    “Mike, the FH sends more than 50% more to GTO”
    Falcon Heavy hasn’t sent anything anywhere!