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Orion's maiden voyage full of fire and space (pictures)

NASA is celebrating the successful first test flight of Orion, a next-generation spacecraft expected to one day ferry humans to Mars.

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Amanda Kooser
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1 of 10 NASA/Radislav Sinyak

Preparing to launch Orion

Before taking the eventual massive leap of placing humans on Mars, NASA has to thoroughly test its next-gen spacecraft, Orion. A successful space test flight of Orion took place on Friday, December 5, paving the way for an unmanned moon flight, to be followed years from now by crewed deep-space missions.

Here, Orion is being coupled to the massive Delta IV Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket available in the US. This was part of the extensive preparations for the spacecraft's first flight.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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2 of 10 NASA/Kim Shiflett

Prior to Orion lift-off

The Orion spacecraft sits atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This image was captured shortly before lift-off, just prior to Orion's successful first test flight, a two-orbit jaunt around the planet.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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3 of 10 NASA/Bill Ingalls

We have Orion lift-off

This fiery image was taken as Orion lifted off, hitching a ride into space thanks to the power of a massive rocket. This first test flight of the next-gen spacecraft is expected to pave the way for manned deep-space missions to an asteroid and Mars, though Orion is first scheduled to take an uncrewed trip around the moon.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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4 of 10 NASA

Orion looks down at the launch pad

NASA is celebrating the successful maiden test flight of its Orion spacecraft. One of Orion's onboard cameras looked downward shortly after launch and caught this photo of Space Launch Complex 37 below. Orion's flight originated from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The glow from the massive rocket beneath Orion is visible in the center of the photo.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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5 of 10 NASA/Bill Ingalls

Orion rockets toward space

The Orion spacecraft, Delta IV Heavy rocket and loads of fuel weighed a combined 1.63 million pounds. It took an impressive rocket to get the whole kit and kaboodle off the ground. Orion completed a successful first test flight on December 5, a big step in toward eventually sending off ambitious manned deep-space missions.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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6 of 10 NASA Television

Orion looks back at Earth

A camera mounted in the window of NASA's Orion spacecraft grabbed this blue image of Earth during a successful test flight on December 5. The flight consisted of two orbits around the planet followed by a fiery reentry and splashdown into the Pacific Ocean.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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7 of 10 NASA

Booster separation follows lift-off

The massive rocket that sent NASA's Orion spacecraft into orbit wasn't allowed to hang on for very long. This image from one of Orion's onboard cameras shows the separation of one of the Delta IV Heavy rocket boosters following lift-off. The massive rocket was needed to get all 1.63 million pounds of spacecraft, rocket and fuel off the ground.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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8 of 10 NASA

Fairing flies off into space

Onboard cameras on Orion, NASA's next-gen spacecraft designed for manned missions, captured some intriguing milestones on its first test flight. Here, the service-module fairings separate from the main craft. The fairings are 14 feet long.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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9 of 10 NASA

Orion's parachutes deployed

Following a successful two-orbit stroll around Earth, NASA's Orion spacecraft blazed back down through the atmosphere, deployed its parachutes and landed safely in the Pacific Ocean for recovery. This image, captured by NASA's remotely piloted unmanned aircraft system Ikhana, caught sight of Orion with its three parachutes open.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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10 of 10 NASA

Orion in the ocean

The next-gen Orion spacecraft safely returned from its first test flight on December 5 by landing in the ocean. Orion traveled 60,000 miles and, according to NASA, went further into space than any ship meant for humans has gone in over 40 years. NASA's remotely piloted Ikhana aircraft followed Orion's descent and watery landing, capturing this photo of the spacecraft floating in the Pacific Ocean prior to recovery.

Related article: Orion spacecraft makes first test flight

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