Another chapter in the history of spaceflight was written today at 8:29am PST, as the EFT-1 mission ended with the splashdown of the Orion capsule in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. Though designed to carry astronauts into deep space, the Orion was unmanned for the flight, which was planned to certify the spacecraft and test critical flight systems.
The Orion was launched earlier today at 7:05am EST from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy booster on a four-and-a-half-hour flight. The launch was delayed from its scheduled Thursday liftoff due to a sudden rise in local winds that exceeded safety parameters, followed by a pair of valve malfunctions.
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The capsule and its dummy service module flew on a two-orbit trajectory that took it farther than any man-rated craft since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. At its highest altitude, Orion traveled 3,600 mi (5,800 km) away from our planet. When it returned to Earth, it was moving at a speed of 20,000 mph (32,000 km/h) and generated temperatures reaching 4,000⁰ F (2,200⁰ C).
Splashing down in the Pacific 270 mi (435 km) off the coast of Baja, it is awaiting recovery by specially-trained US Navy divers in Zodiacs from the USS Anchorage assisted by the salvage ship USNS Salvor. Once the craft is determined to be safe, it will be brought aboard Anchorage before being taken ashore and transported by road to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Over the next few weeks, scientists and engineers will assess data from its telemetry and flight recorders.
NASA says that the next flight of the Orion will take place no later than 2018, when it will be launched using the agency's Space Launch System (SLS).
Source: NASAView gallery - 2 images