by Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today and AAAP
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s exploration roadmap aimed at sending humans to Mars got off the ground magnificently with the flawless launch and landing of the agency’s new Orion deep space capsule on its maiden voyage on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. I attended the launch and had a prime viewing location from inside Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on nearby Space Launch Complex 41 just two miles away and reported online for Universe Today and AmericaSpace websites.
“The first look looks really good from a data standpoint and will help us as we go forward,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, at the post landing media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. “We as a species are meant to press humanity further into the solar system and this is a first step. What a tremendous team effort.”
Orion roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242-foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37.
The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the Exploration Flight Test-1 mission carried the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades. Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 for NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.
The first stage of the mammoth, triple-barreled Delta IV Heavy generates two million pounds of liftoff thrust and was the only rocket powerful enough to launch Orion and achieve its intended goals.
During the two-orbit, 4.5-hour flight, Orion reached an altitude of 3,604 miles above Earth, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station.
At about 4 hours and 15 minutes, the capsule began its high speed re-entry through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph, which tested the 16.5-foot wide heat shield at speeds approximating 85% of the reentry velocity for astronauts returning from voyages to the Red Planet.
The capsule survived the scorching 4,000ºF temperatures in a successful test of the heat shield and thermal protection tiles before splashing down on a trio of parachutes in the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 a.m. EST. The capsule was recovered by US Navy divers and returned to the Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 19 for detailed analysis and eventual relaunch in 2018.
For complete details check out my articles and photos at Universe Today and AmericaSpace:
Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer
The Future of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program with Orion and Commercial Astronaut Taxis: March 6, 2015, DVAA, PA. http://dvaa.org
MMS, Orion and SpaceX Launches: March 11-13, NASA Kennedy Space Center, FL. Evening outreach at Quality Inn, Titusville, FL
NASA Mars Rovers and the Future of Human Spaceflight: April 18/19, NEAF, Rockland Community College, Rockland, NY.