The Orion spacecraft was moved Tuesday night Nov. 11 to Florida, settling within Launch Complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
After leaving NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the spacecraft was attended to by technicians and engineers, lifting Orion and mounting it on top of its Delta IV Heavy rocket. To get to the launchpad, the spacecraft used the special Kamag transporter built for such purposes. It took six hours to move the 46,848-pound Orion to its destination.
Orion will be spending three weeks in its new home where it will be fine-tuned to prepare it for its first test flight, which will involve an unmanned mission in low-Earth orbit. The test flight is scheduled for Dec. 4 and will have the spacecraft soaring about 3,600 miles in the atmosphere.
After orbiting the world twice, Orion's capsule will fall back to Earth at speeds of 20,000 mph. To slow down the capsule's re-entry, it will be fitted with an elaborate parachute system. The Orion is expected to land in the Pacific Ocean.
Orion's first test flight will last four hours and 23 minutes and will have the spacecraft traveling 60,000 miles in space. The journey will involve a number of tests, allowing NASA to take measurements and readings that will help further refine Orion and enable it to last longer under more demanding stresses.
"[Exploration Flight Test] 1 is a compilation of the riskiest events that we are going to see when we fly people. So this test flight is a great opportunity to fly those and see them in operation. Some of these events are difficult or even impossible to test on the ground. EFT 1 gives us a chance to put all those together," said Orion program manager Mark Geyer.
Astronaut Rex Walheim, who is part of the Orion development team and one of the final space shuttle crew members, said the Orion spacecraft was beautiful and that seeing it come out of the hangar was an amazing sight.
"It's historic. This is going to be a vehicle that could fly for us for 30 years, potentially, and this is the first one, the first tailnumber coming out the chute. This is like the forefather of this great fleet of vehicles that's going to be coming online," he added.
Once Orion is fully operational, it is expected to bring humans to Mars by 2030. Before that, the spacecraft is scheduled to explore an asteroid by 2025.