Liftoff! NASA launches Orion on test of capsule's abort system

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The sky over Cape Canaveral lit up Tuesday morning as NASA tested a critical component in its quest to safely send astronauts back into space from American soil.

The Orion capsule launched at 7 a.m. at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to test the capsule's abort system.

“That was awesome to see it lift off, and then the splashdown was my favorite. You could see how fast it was going because of how big the splash was, because we're far away and it was still really huge," visitor Tara Abraham said.

During the three-minute test, the spacecraft climbed to an altitude of 6 miles, then separated from the rocket.

“I'm feeling excited and looking forward to the future of space travel and going to the moon and Mars. It's very exciting," visitor Brittany Abraham said.

NASA said the test capsule fell back to Earth without parachutes into the ocean. The capsule sank and will not be recovered.

According to NASA, the test flight will help ensure the safety of the astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency as they rocket into space.

“In Orion, crew safety and spacecraft reliability are very high priorities for us, and our launch abort system is a key safety feature of the spacecraft,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager.

Launch director Don Reed said the system tested Tuesday could have saved the lives of crew members if there had been any on board.

"This is a big accomplishment to show that we still have the capability to save the crew if need be," Reed said.

NASA said it will now spend the next few months crunching the data collected from Tuesday's launch and preparing for manned missions to space starting in 2024.

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