MOSCOW, December 5 (Sputnik) – NASA’s Orion spacecraft capable of taking astronauts on future missions to an asteroid or Mars, was launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Friday.
The launch was initially scheduled for Thursday, but was postponed due to valve issue.
The unmanned spacecraft will circle the Earth twice during a four-and-a-half hour flight and reach an altitude of 3,600 miles before re-entering Earth's atmosphere and falling into the Pacific Ocean. It's target drop zone is about 600 miles southwest of San Diego, California.
A microchip carrying the names of more than a million people is onboard the spacecraft along with other souvenirs from Earth, including coins, flags, a Sesame Street muppet, a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, an oxygen hose from an Apollo 11 spacesuit and a sample of lunar soil.
Oryon's next test flight is scheduled for 2018 and the first crewed flight will not take place before 2021. The earliest Orion could go to Mars is in 2030s, according to NASA.