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NASA to fly new Orion spacecraft in December

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NASA is on track to conduct the first flight test of its new Orion manned spacecraft in December, agency officials said June 18.

During the four-hour mission, which will begin at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Lockheed Martin-built vehicle will lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and fly about 3,600 miles above Earth. Orion, which will not have a crew aboard, will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour before splashing into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to allow Orion to carry astronauts to an asteroid, Mars or other deep-space destination. Orion’s first flight aboard SLS is planned for 2017. Orion’s first manned flight is scheduled for 2021 aboard SLS.

In a press briefing at Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that while the long-range Orion will be capable of flying to the International Space Station, his agency has no plans to use it for such relatively short trips. Three industry teams are currently competing to provide spacecraft that will transport people to and from the low-Earth-orbit laboratory.

"It would be a waste of the taxpayer money's ... to configure Orion to go to the space station," Bolden told reporters.

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