CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- After a frustrating day of delays, NASA's hope for the future of manned space travel (and an eventual trip to Mars) successfully launched, orbited, and splashed back down in the Pacific Ocean. A day after the originally planned takeoff, Orion stuck to the 7:05 a.m. liftoff time, launched skyward by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
On Thursday, a stray boat and a series of wind violations delayed proceedings before several malfunctioning fill-and-drain fuel valves put the kibosh on plans. But mission engineers spent the rest of the day testing equipment to ensure Friday's rescheduled launch goes more smoothly. The work paid off.
A mass of reporters gathered at the Press Site to witness the countdown and watch a live feed of the blastoff from NASA's newly installed Jumbotron. Locals and tourists gathered to watch from beaches, sidewalks and jetties, while NASA engineers were busy monitoring the takeoff from mission control.
Lifted by more than two million pounds of thrust, the 1.65-million-pound combination of rocket, spacecraft and fuel pierced through Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph. Some 110,000 gallons of the liquid hydrogen and 40,000 gallons of liquid oxygen were burned on the takeoff and initial ascent.
Just a few minutes after liftoff, the Orion capsule began shedding unnecessary portions of the service module, separating as it entered phase two of its test flight.
"The RL-10B engine on the second stage is burning as planned to take over for the spent first stage," NASA officials wrote in a blog update. "The engine will burn for 11 minutes, 50 seconds to place Orion in its initial orbit."
The second phase saw Orion thrust into an initial orbit of 115 miles by 552 miles. A follow-up thrust pushed the craft into its final orbiting altitude of 3,600 miles. The capsule circled the globe twice and fell back to Earth, splashing down into the Pacific.
The U.S. Navy is now assisting in recovering Orion and bringing it aboard the USS Anchorage or USNS Salvor.
Officials hope the initial flight -- a test run intended to confirm the craft's deep space credentials and its ability to handle the stresses of spaceflight -- is the first of many. Orion is schedule to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station next year, and travel to the moon beginning in 2020. Eventually, the craft will carry a crew to Mars.