For the first time in more than 40 years, NASA has launched a spaceship designed to carry astronauts far beyond Earth. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) An unmanned U.S. spaceship designed to one day fly astronauts to Mars blasted off on Friday for an unmanned trial run around Earth. A Delta 4 Heavy rocket, currently the biggest booster in the U.S. fleet, lifted off at 7:05 a.m. Eastern time from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co that builds and flies the rocket, delayed launch by one day to resolve a problem with sluggish values in the rocket's first-stage propellant system. Riding atop a fountain of fire, the 24-story-tall rocket soared out over the Atlantic Ocean, punching through partly cloudy skies as it headed into orbit. Cars jammed roads for miles around the spaceport as thousands of people attempted to catch a glimpse of the launch. The last time crowds this large gathered for rocket-watching was for the space shuttle, which stopped flying in 2011. NASA has been working on Orion, along with a new heavy-lift rocket, for more than eight years. The design of the rocket has changed, but Orion survived the cancellation of a lunar exploration program called Constellation to become the centerpiece of a new human space initiative intended to one day fly astronauts to Mars. For its orbital debut, Orion, built by Lockheed Martin, is expected to fly as far as 3,600 miles from Earth so that it can slam back into the atmosphere at a speed of about 20,000 mph. During re-entry, temperatures on Orion's heat shield should soar to 4,000 degree Fahrenheit, close to what spaceships returning from lunar orbit will experience.