NASA Launches Orion On Historic Mission


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s new Orion spacecraft is on its way to orbit.

The unmanned orbital test flight began Friday with a sunrise liftoff witnessed by thousands of NASA guests gathered at Cape Canaveral for the second morning in a row. The crowd size and excitement were reminiscent of the shuttle-flying days.

This high-stakes mission is meant to usher in a new era of human exploration leading ultimately to Mars.

Orion’s debut will be brief — just 4½ hours from launch to splashdown, with two orbits of Earth. But for the first time in 42 years, NASA is sending a spacecraft built for humans farther than a couple hundred miles from Earth. The previous time was the Apollo 17 moon shot.

And it’s NASA’s first new spaceship since the shuttle.

Thursday’s launch attempt was foiled by wind and balky valves.