America is once again leading humanity to the final frontier. On December 4, 2014, the Orion spacecraft flew its maiden voyage. The new ship is designed for eventual manned spaceflight, and should be ready to go by the next decade.
The launch was flawless. From atop a Delta IV rocket, Orion travelled exactly 3,604 miles from Earth before its planned re-entry. The ship’s new heat shield performed brilliantly, comfortably surviving temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The mission lasted four hours.
It’s been decades since humans last flew as far as the Orion plans to go. The last time was the Apollo 17 mission, and Richard Nixon was president.
Humanity’s history with the stars began with the notorious Space Race in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. They followed that feat with the first man in space, when Yuri Gagarin successfully orbited the Earth in 1961. After, America took the lead, successfully landing men on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission and subsequent missions.
Scientists, authors, and laymen alike have all dreamed of one day travelling to other planets. Orion is destined for solar neighbor, with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. calling the flight, “Day One of the Mars era.”
There’s no telling just when Earthlings are able to set foot on the Red Planet, but the Orion program is the first dedicated step towards that goal. Whether we find little green men, water, or just dust on Mars, Americans are once again going boldly where no man has gone before.