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NASA's Orion capsule returns to Kennedy Space Center

Spacecraft driven cross-country after test flight

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(Florida Today)

NASA's first space-flown Orion capsule arrived back at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, returning to the place where it was assembled.

The spacecraft completed a 2,700-mile, cross-country drive from San Diego that followed its Dec. 5 splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at the end of a successful first test flight launched hours earlier from Cape Canaveral.

Orion is the spacecraft NASA is designing to again carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, to the area around the moon and possibly one day Mars.

The unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 mission, launched by a Delta IV Heavy rocket, sent Orion to a peak altitude of 3,600 miles during a two-orbit, four-and-a-half-hour mission. Orion survived a 20,000-mph reentry through the atmosphere and deployed parachutes in preparation for the splashdown 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

"Orion's flight test was a critical step on our journey to send astronauts to explore deep space destinations," said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement. "We stressed Orion to help us evaluate its performance and validate our computer models and ground-based evaluations, and the information we gathered will help us improve Orion's design going forward."

NASA has invited media to see Orion Friday morning in its open shipping container.