NASA's Orion Tests Future of Manned Spaceflight

The unmanned capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Friday morning.

A trial by fire awaits the astronaut capsule intended for NASA's future deep space voyages, now sitting atop an unmanned rocket on a Florida launchpad.

Orion is intended to carry four astronauts aloft on 21-day missions that will fly higher than low Earth orbit, beyond the altitude of the International Space Station, which travels only 270 miles (430 kilometers) up. The capsule's reentry test will show whether its new heat shields can withstand temperatures of 4,000°F (2,200°C) as it passes through the atmosphere on its high-speed return from deep space missions.

"This is the beginning of exploring beyond low Earth orbit," said NASA's Mark Geyer at a Kennedy Space Center briefing on Wednesday. "We have to see how it performs in

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