Mars Era Opens with Spectacular Blastoff of NASA’s New Orion Crew Spacecraft

The Dawn of Orion and the Path Beyond Earth: Spectacular Launch Gallery

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After four decades of waiting, the dawn of a new era in space exploration finally began with the dawn liftoff of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.

The picture perfect liftoff of Orion on its inaugural unmanned test flight relit the path to send humans beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view.

Orion soared to space atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Enjoy the spectacular launch photo gallery from my fellow space journalists and photographers captured from various up close locations ringing the Delta launch complex.

Tens of thousands of spectators descended upon the Kennedy Space Center to be an eyewitness to history and the new space era – and they were universally thrilled.

Orion is the first human rated spacecraft to fly beyond low Earth orbit since Apollo 17 and was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

America’s astronauts flying aboard Orion will venture farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and other destinations in our Solar System starting around 2020 or 2021 on Orion’s first crewed flight atop NASA’s new monster rocket – the SLS – concurrently under development.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.