Friday, December 5, 2014

Orion Test Flight Launches Successfully!!!

NASA's Orion test capsule successfully launched at 7:05 this morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket!!!  NASA TV dropped the ball big time, starting to peter out around 30 seconds before launch and completely losing signal (for me online at least) at 8 seconds til launch, so I was FURIOUS that I missed it.  However, there is already a spectacular video online for everyone's viewing pleasure:
So why is this unmanned test launch so important?  Because this is THE next generation NASA space vehicle.  The Orion is what is going to take astronauts back to the moon, to asteroids, and even to Mars.  We're looking at the start of the next 30 years of NASA spaceflight here.  This test vehicle is the first spacecraft to go higher than ANY OTHER spacecraft since Apollo (it travelled to to a distance of 15x higher than the orbit of the ISS!!!).  Since we haven't sent any manned or soon-to-be-manned vehicles this far in over 40 years, this important Orion test flight will get NASA (and primary contractor Lockheed Martin) real-life data on the performance of Orion’s avionics, software, radiation protection (this is the first time since Apollo that we'll be traveling through the Van Allen Bbelts), heat shield, parachutes and recovery systems. 

The entire test flight only lasted four and a half hours.  Most of that time was flight powered by the Delta IV Heavy and it's associated rockets.  The Orion test capsule took 2 orbits around the earth before reaching it's peak orbit at 10:11 am (EST) and starting it's insanely fast return trip to Earth, which engineers estimate will take it to a top speed around 20,000 mph with a peak acceleration of 8.28x the force of gravity and reentry temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit!  Those are some big numbers and you can start to see why this test mission is so important if we want to eventually man these Orion capsules.  Orion successfully splashed down into the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 am EST.  You can see here a visual overview of the test mission:
If you are interested in more information about the Orion Program, you can check out NASA's Orion webpage, and you can also see the timeline of the test flight and read the real time play by play of the mission at Spaceflightnow.com.

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