Dec 5, 2014
With one 4½-hour flight Friday, the new spacecraft series that NASA hopes will take astronauts to Mars passed its first test above Earth.
NASA's Orion capsule -- part of America's bid to take crews beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo missions -- splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Friday morning after lapping the planet twice on an uncrewed test flight.
The cone-shaped craft, slowed by a series of parachutes, settled onto the water at 8:29 a.m. PT (11:29 a.m. ET) about 600 miles southwest of San Diego.
"America has driven a golden spike as it crosses a bridge into the future," a NASA announcer said as the capsule bobbed on the ocean's surface during the agency's TV broadcast of the event.
The flight took Orion farther from Earth than any craft designed for human flight since the Apollo 17 mission to the moon in 1972 -- a confidence builder for a program that NASA hopes will take its first human crew into space in 2021.