In the test, conducted at the White Sands Missile Range in the barren southern New Mexico desert, the Orion capsule was catapulted about a mile into the air and landed about 1 mile north of the launch site. The unmanned capsule left a stream of white smoke as it arched toward the north. Several hundred people watched the test early Thursday morning.
Orion is only one small element of the now-cancelled plans to replace the aged space shuttle program, a program called Constellation. NASA would have replaced the shuttle with a heavy lift rocket, called Ares, and the Orion capsule to transport crew members.
The test Thursday morning were aimed at Orion's launch-abort system, which will whisk astronauts and the capsule to safety in case of a problem on the launch pad, such as a fire, or during the climb to orbit.
It will be one hour after Thursday's launch before NASA can determine if the test was a success.
Here, the capsule separates from the supposedly malfunctioning rocket carrying it into space and begins abort procedures.
A close-up shot of the capsule, intended to carry crew members into space, separating from the rocket transporting it.
The rocket separates successfully from the rocket.
The first of three parachutes deploys, which will eventually bring the capsule safely back to the desert floor.
The capsule descends, depending from three parachutes that safely lowered it to the desert sands below.
NASA engineers conducted a test Thursday morning of the Orion crew capsule -- the only element the space agency plans to save from the cancelled space shuttle replacement program.