For the first time in more than 40 years, NASA launched a spaceship designed to carry astronauts far beyond Earth. The Orion space capsule blasted off for an unmanned, trial run on Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The capsule reached a peak altitude more than 14 times farther from our planet than the International Space Station. No spacecraft designed for astronauts had gone so far since Apollo 17 — NASA's final moon shot — 42 years ago.
The Orion spaceship was launched in an effort to explore the possibility of potential human exploration on Mars. The unmanned, 4-and-a-half-hour test flight set at least one record: flying farther and faster than any capsule built for humans since the Apollo moon program.
The Orion would be supplemented with habitats for Mars trips, which would take eight months using current rockets. NASA hopes improving technology will speed the journey.
Officials expect it will be at least seven years from now — 2021 — before Orion carries people.