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article imageFuture manned space capsule returns from NASA test flight

By Nathan Salant     Dec 6, 2014 in Science
San Diego - NASA's Orion capsule -- expected to be the vehicle behind the next wave of U.S. manned spaceflight -- returned to Earth with a great splash Thursday after a successful two-orbit test flight.
The unmanned Orion capsule, built to hold as many as six astronauts on future missions, orbited the furthest from Earth than any craft built to carry humans since the moon landings, according to Cable News Network (CNN).
Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 8:29 a.m. Pacific time around 600 miles southwest of San Diego and was recovered by crew members aboard the USS Anchorage, CNN said.
The space capsule is expected to be delivered to Naval Base San Diego on Monday, a NASA spokeswoman said.
"Orion has been safely recovered and is inside the USS Anchorage," spokeswoman Sarah Loff said in a statement posted to NASA's website.
"After the crew module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean earlier today, a team of NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin personnel attached hardware to the spacecraft, allowing them to move it into the ship’s well deck and nestling Orion onto several bumpers on the bottom of the deck," she said.
Lockheed Martin Corp. built Orion under contract with NASA.
NASA officials hailed the one-day mission, which had been delayed 24 hours by high winds and a valve problem.
"It is hard to have a better day than today," said Mark Geyer, the Orion program manager.
Orion's orbit was more than 3,600 miles above Earth, 15 times further than the orbit of the International Space Station, NASA said.
The success of the mission raised hopes as U.S. officials see Orion as the vehicle to take humans to Mars' moons and, possibility, to the red planet itself in the 2030s, CNN said.
"America has driven a golden spike as it crosses a bridge into the future," a NASA announcer said after the capsule splashed down.
Human flights aboard Orion are scheduled to begin in 2021, CNN said.
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