Since NASA’s Apollo moon mission in 1972, astronauts have flown only a few hundred miles above Earth.
On December 5th, NASA successfully launched the first test flight of its new Orion spacecraft. The flight, which NASA calls Exploration Flight Test-1, was designed to test the spacecraft’s systems before it carries astronauts on deep space missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.
NASA’s Orion zoomed about 3,600 miles from Earth and re-entered back into the atmosphere after an unmanned 4.5 hour mission. During re-entry, Orion endured the screaming speed of 20,000 mph and temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is twice as hot as molten lava.
Eleven parachutes helped slow Orion to 20 mph before it hit the water in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles southwest of San Diego, where a ship recovered it.
This test flight cost NASA about $375 million. NASA has already spent more than $9 billion developing the Lockheed Martin-built Orion.