Ed. note: This post is written by NASA's Steven Siceloff. You can read the original post here.
NASA marked a critical step on the journey to Mars with its Orion spacecraft during a roaring liftoff into the dawn sky over eastern Florida on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket.
Once on its way, the Orion spacecraft accomplished a series of milestones as it jettisoned a set of fairing panels around the service module before the launch abort system tower pulled itself away from the spacecraft as planned.
The spacecraft and second stage of the Delta IV rocket settled into an initial orbit about 17 minutes after liftoff. Flight controllers put Orion into a slow roll to keep its temperature controlled while the spacecraft flew through a 97-minute coast phase.
The cone-shaped spacecraft did not carry anyone inside its cabin but is designed to take astronauts farther into space than ever before in the future.
Orion's first flight test is expected to be one for the books: the first mission since Apollo to carry a spacecraft built for humans to deep space, the first time NASA's next-generation spacecraft is tested against the challenges of space, and the first operational test of a heat shield strong enough to protect against 4,000-degree temperatures.