NASA’s Orion capsule has blasted off on the farthest journey into space anyone has ever attempted since the last Apollo moon mission. In fact, a Delta IV rocket will propel it to an altitude of 3,600 miles, roughly 14 times that of the International Space Station’s — and for good reason. NASA and Lockheed, which has been building the vessel for years, are betting on it to become the space agency’s go-to vehicle for manned, deep-space missions. Thus, the capsule needs to undergo rigorous testing in the right conditions in order to ensure the safety of the astronauts it’ll ferry to the moon, and even Mars.
Update: We’ve embedded NASA’s replay video of Orion’s successful launch below. The main engines will fire again at around 8:50 AM (EST) to boost Orion to 3,600 miles.
Orion will spend over four hours out there, orbiting Earth once seven minutes into its journey before the rocket’s second stage takes it to its highest destination beyond the Van Allen belt. The vehicle’s fitted with sensors that can tell the ground crew if the radiation belt can interfere with its onboard controls. After that, the reentry process begins. To pass this “trial by fire,” the capsule’s heat shields will need to survive hurtling through the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds reaching 20,000mph. Its parachute system, which has been tested before, will have to slow it down from breakneck speeds to a full stop within 11 minutes. Finally, if it lands safely (and we, of course, hope it does), the Navy will get to test out a new ocean recovery method.