Click the arrow to watch mission highlights and the post-landing media event. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.
After nearly eleven years and an estimated $10 billion, the Orion capsule finally slipped the surly bonds of Earth for a 4½ hour uncrewed test flight that appears to have been almost completely successful.
When President George W. Bush proposed 3,978 days ago the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the International Space Station was about one-third complete, the Space Shuttle was grounded for a second time due to a fatal accident, SpaceX was two years away from its first Falcon 1 test flight, and United Launch Alliance had yet to be awarded a legal launch monopoly.
Russia was still a trusted space ally.
But for all my personal cynicism about the money wasted on Orion and the Space Launch System, for all the pork-barrel politics and lack of any actual mission approved by Congress, nonetheless I did feel moved when I saw the capsule soft-land into the Pacific Ocean with parachutes billowing in the sea air after a near-perfect test flight.
For those of us who grew up with Apollo, our childhood brains were imprinted with the heroism and drama associated with that image. It occurred to me that no one had seen this sight since 1975, and from a Beyond Earth Orbit flight since 1972.
It also gave those who've worked on the program a sense of vindication.
In the post-landing media event, a tearful Orion Program Manager Mike Hawes of Lockheed Martin said, “We've finally done something for the first time for our generation. It's a good day.”
Sisyphus finally rolled his rock up the hill.
If nothing else, today's flight showed NASA is still capable of producing a crew vehicle, given enough time and money.
NASA may not be as nimble or lean or bold as this generation's NewSpace companies, but the flawless performance today proved NASA still has the Right Stuff.
Florida Today “Orion Successfully Completes Test Flight”
Los Angeles Times “Orion Zooms Around Planet, Drops into the Pacific; Recovery Underway”
NASASpaceflight.com “EFT-1 Orion Completes Historic Mission”
The New York Times “First Flight Test Is Successful for NASA’s Orion Spacecraft”
Orlando Sentinel “NASA Declares Orion Mission a Success”
Space News “Orion Aces First Test Flight”
Spaceflight Now “Orion Capsule Completes Epic Space Journey”
Washington Post “NASA’s Orion Completes Historic Flight, Ushers in 'New Era'”