NASA hopes its new Orion spacecraft will eventually be able to take humans as far away as Mars. Before the new spaceship can go into deep space, however, it must undergo flight testing closer to home. That starts on Dec. 4, when NASA will send the unmanned ship approximately 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) above Earth to make two orbits. Roughly 4.5 hours later, Orion will race back into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 20,000 miles per hour (32,200 km/h) and eventually splash into the Pacific Ocean. This first test will help NASA scientists gather information that they hope will help move Orion closer to sending astronauts farther from Earth than ever before.
Photo by Frankie Martin/NASA.