CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (WHNT) - NASA's Orion capsule has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after its first, unmanned, two-orbit test flight.
It came down on the surface of the ocean at 10:29 a.m. CT about 270 miles off the coast of Baja, California. NASA called it a "bull's eye splashdown."
The 4½-hour, uncrewed, two-orbit flight took taking Orion farther from Earth than any craft designed for human flight has been since the Apollo 17 mission to the moon in 1972.
"The launch itself (was) just a blast," NASA Orion program manager Mark Geyer quipped on NASA TV shortly after liftoff, "as you see how well the rocket did. It was exciting to see."
The Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off at 6:05 a.m. CT and put the capsule and the rocket's second stage into low-Earth orbit less than 20 minutes later.
Then, two hours later, a milestone: The second stage lifted Orion higher for its second orbit, expected to be about 3,600 miles above Earth, or 15 times higher than the International Space Station.
The re-entry was an important test for Orion's heat shield. The craft hit speeds of more than 20,000 miles per hour before re-entering the atmosphere -- heating the shield to about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Parachutes then deployed to slow the capsule from about 300 mph to 20 mph so it could drop safely into the Pacific Ocean. Two U.S. Navy ships, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage and the Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor, will help NASA recover the capsule.
The launch comes a day after NASA scrubbed its first attempt because of a failure of some valves in the boosters to close. Those valves, which allow fuel to flow into the boosters before launch, are supposed to close just before liftoff.
To read more about the Orion spacecraft and its importance to the Tennessee Valley and the future of space travel click here.