NASA’s Orion space capsule has returned to Florida after completing its unmanned test flight. Space agency officials will now study and review its performance in the December 5 mission.
The Orion capsule was launched into space from the Kennedy Space Center and completed two orbits of Earth before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere and safely splashed into the Pacific Ocean. The capsule travelled 5800 km above the Earth’s surface before splashdown.
The duration of the mission was only 4.5 hours. The capsule was retrieved by US Navy frogmen and brought to the port of San Diego. The capsule was then taken to Florida for its last leg of its journey on December 18.
It is the first vehicle to be designed for manned spaceflight to travel beyond the low Earth orbit in the last 40 years. Orion project has been designed by NASA for carrying astronauts to Mars and possibly Ceres or some other asteroid. It was a crucial step towards the ultimate goal of manned deep space missions.
The Orion capsule has been designed to carry astronauts therefore NASA engineers planned the mission meticulously leaving no loose ends to tend. NASA wanted to be sure that Orion capsule will be sturdy enough to successfully withstand the vagaries of space before astronauts are put onboard. The capsule had extra large heat shields to withstand the searing temperatures during re-entry. It worked perfectly and so did the parachutes which slowed the descent and the capsule landed flawlessly on the ocean.
NASA engineers will conduct in-depth and detailed studies of the capsule’s rendezvous in space.
As Orion program manager Mark Geyer noted in a press statement, “Now, we get to dig in and really find out if our design performed like we thought it would. This is why we flew the flight. We demonstrated on Dec. 5 that Orion is a very capable vehicle. Now, we’re going to keep testing and improving as we begin building the next Orion.”