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San Diego-based ship to retrieve NASA’s Orion capsule

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Orion Launch

NASA

SAN DIEGO — A NASA space capsule that blasted into orbit Friday and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean will be brought to San Diego aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage, the U.S. space agency said Friday.

The Orion was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in Florida to about 3,600 miles into the Earth’s orbit. Though the capsule was unmanned for the test flight, officials said the Orion could in theory carry people to deep space some day.

“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our journey to Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”

NASA said the space capsule rocketed into the sky at 4:05 a.m. Pacific Time. It’s crew module splashed down about 4 1/2 hours later, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

During the flight, Orion traveled twice through the Van Allen belt, where it experienced high periods of radiation.

The capsule hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it entered Earth’s atmosphere, according to NASA.

Engineers will use data collected during the flight to improve Orion’s design, the space agency said. The flight tested Orion’s heat shield, avionics, parachutes, computers and key spacecraft separation events, exercising many of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will travel in Orion.

The last time a NASA vehicle that could carry people traveled so far into space was in 1972 with the last of the agency’s Apollo moon missions. Since then, NASA has only launched craft designed to carry crew just a few hundred miles from Earth.

The Anchorage will bring Orion back to Naval Base San Diego. The capsule will then be delivered back to Florida, according to NASA.