NASA’s Orion crew-rated capsule makes successful test lift-off

A new chapter in space exploration has opened today with the successful maiden flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

Following delays on December 4, 2014, the spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral at 1205 GMT on a Delta IV-Heavy rocket for a two-orbit, 4.5 hour flight.

According to NASA, Orion accomplished a series of milestones as it jettisoned a set of fairing panels around the service module before the launch abort system tower pulled itself away from the spacecraft as planned.

The space agency added that the spacecraft and second stage of the Delta IV rocket settled into an initial orbit about 17 minutes after lift off, after which flight controllers put Orion into a slow roll to control its temperature controlled while the spacecraft flew through a 97-minute coast phase.

Orion’s first flight test is the first mission since Apollo to carry a spacecraft built for humans to deep space, the first time NASA’s next-generation spacecraft is tested against the challenges of space, and the first operational test of a heat shield strong enough to protect against 4,000-degree temperatures.

Designed for future manned deep space missions, the maiden flight will also be used by NASA’s engineers to assess launch and high-speed re-entry systems including attitude control and parachutes.