Orion splashes down in the Pacific Ocean December 5, 2014.

Orion splashes down in the Pacific Ocean December 5, 2014.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—After four and a half hours of flying around Earth, the new Orion capsule made a triumphant splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to end its debut mission. The spacecraft, designed to eventually carry people out into the solar system to asteroids, the moon and Mars, made this trial run unmanned, and appeared to perform flawlessly. “Every single system on this spacecraft functioned by the book from start to finish,” NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said on NASA TV’s live coverage. The dozens of reporters and a few astronauts gathered here at the Kennedy Space Center’s press site broke out in cheers when footage showed Orion’s three red-and-white-striped parachutes unfurling to soften its descent. The capsule plunged into the water at 11:29 a.m. ET. “There is your new spacecraft, America,” Navias announced.

Orion lifted off this morning at 7:05 a.m. ET from here at Cape Canaveral, after a first launch attempt yesterday was thwarted by weather, technical glitches and a wayward boat too near the launch pad. Its two swings around our planet took it as far as 5,800 kilometers from Earth (15 times farther than the International Space Station orbits). Crews are now retrieving the capsule off the coast of Baja California and will carry it aboard a U.S. Navy transport ship to San Diego, where it will then board a truck for the drive back to Florida.

For photos of the launch and the scene here at Kennedy Space Center, see our slide show here: Orion Capsule Launches New Era for NASA [Slide Show]

For a lighthearted take on Orion’s mission, watch Elmo discuss the flight with me: Elmo Talks with Scientific American about Tomorrow’s Orion Crew Capsule Launch [Video]

And for more details on Orion’s mission, see our launch story: Launch of Orion Paves the Way for NASA’s Return to Human Spaceflight