After launching from Florida, NASA’s Orion spacecraft splashed into the Pacific Ocean less than five hours later. The successful $375-million flight test officially launched the U.S. back into the final frontier.

“Everywhere I go, the world over, students, citizens, scientists, explorers and entrepreneurs are eager to get in on the action in this new era of space exploration,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden told CNN prior to the Orion launch.

NASA officials post test briefingThe unmanned test flight was the first step in NASA’s developing Mars exploration program. Last week, NASA officials announced intentions to send astronauts to Mars by the mid-2030s.

By 2025, teams of four astronauts will travel to asteroids between Earth and the Red Planet. The next test flight is set for 2018.

The purpose of Friday’s test flight was two-fold: to test critical safety systems and to expose the spacecraft to the orbital environment it would endure for longer missions.

After recent spacecraft launch catastrophes shocked the global audience, NASA is eager to proceed with effective precautions. The 11-foot-long capsule was filled with sensors measuring radiation, heat, and other critical factors.

Upon landing two of the five airbags designed to keep the spacecraft floating upright failed to deploy. The minor hitch did not prevent effective retention or recovery of the capsule.

Mars“The world has learned much about the Red Planet after decades of exploration with rovers and orbiters, but the time has come for human exploration, and we intend to meet the challenge,” Bolden said. “The Orion test flight is the first step. It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond our reach.

“With our Journey to Mars program, NASA is once again well on its way to breathing new life into an American dream and turning science fiction into science fact,” he said.

When not writing, Sierra can be found conducting experiments in the chemistry lab or whipping up delectable creations in her kitchen. With a passion for storytelling, Sierra puts her natural curiosity to use investigating enlightening angles for news and events here at The Oregon Optimist.