NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first unmanned test flight Friday splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean at 8:29 a.m. near San Diego as Navy ships waited to recover it.
The descent under three parachutes was broadcast live by a modified Predator drone flying from Point Mugu in Ventura County.
The USS Anchorage, a San Diego-based amphibious transport dock, was waiting to recover the craft, which is designed for long-duration missions to the Moon, asteroids and Mars.
Navy divers aboard small boats were ready to maneuver alongside and rig lines to guide the capsule to the ship. After recovery, the craft will be taken to San Diego.
The Orion blasted off from Florida on schedule at 4:05 a.m. Pacific time aboard a giant Delta 4 Heavy rocket, the largest currently operating. The launch had been scrubbed on Thursday because of heavy winds and a problem with fuel valves.
After two orbits of the earth, the craft accelerated to 20,000 miles per hour for re-entry through the atmosphere simulating a return from beyond the earth.
The Orion is designed to carry a crew of four astronauts. The first crewed flight is expected later in the decade.
The unmanned test is using the largest rocket currently available, but future manned flights will use NASA’s giant Space Launch System now under development.
The Orion carried the STS-7 crew patch Dr. Sally Ride wore when she became the first American woman to fly in space. The late astronaut was a professor at UC San Diego.
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