Orion's first flight: Preparing for launch, splashdown

Orion undergoes final preparations for Thursday's launch. (Source: WAFF)
Orion undergoes final preparations for Thursday's launch. (Source: WAFF)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL (WAFF) - Early Thursday morning, NASA will send the Orion capsule soaring into space.

The test flight, without humans aboard, will fly 15 times higher than the International Space Station.

This spacecraft is designed to take humans farther than they've ever gone before.

Wednesday, NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said the test flight is not about a new space race, but rather about a new way of combining a public-private partnership to go to Mars and beyond.

"We're not only doing technological advances in terms of hardware, but we're doing game-changing business practices in terms of how you do things," Bolden said.

In a few short hours, the gantry around the rocket and pre-flight activities will go into full swing for a sunrise launch at the Kennedy Space Center.

Safety checks are complete and everything is on track for Thursday's flight to test the crew capsule's critical systems on a 4.5 hour journey into deep space and back to Earth.

What you may not know is the retrieval of that capsule from the Pacific Ocean may take up to eight hours, almost twice as long as the mission itself.

The USS Anchorage will be used to retrieve the capsule after splashdown. It's something NASA hasn't done in 40 years.

Once the Anchorage crew retrieves the capsule, it will be hauled back to Kennedy Space Center by Christmas.

The heat shield will then be brought back to Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center for testing.

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