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Orion space capsule: NASA gets ready for 2014 test launch

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"The future is here, now," Kennedy Space Center's director Robert Cabana said. "The vehicle we see here today is not a Powerpoint chart. It is a real spacecraft moving toward a test flight in 2014." [Gallery: Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 Capsule]

Cabana said the Orion's unveiling was aptly timed since it came one day after the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Space Center, which has been NASA's home port for manned space launches for decades.

"This is a milestone moment for the Space Coast, NASA and America's space program," Garver said. "It is a new and exciting chapter in America's great space exploration story, one that will see more discoveries, more scientific return and more people and Americans going into space and going places that have never before been visited."

The first manned launch of an Orion space capsule atop its main rocket, the Space Launch System, is targeted for 2021. NASA retired its storied space shuttle fleet last year after 30 years of service.

To space and back

The uncrewed Orion test flight, which NASA calls the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), is slated to launch in spring 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After reaching orbit, the capsule will circle Earth twice, rising to more than 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) from the planet — 15 times higher than the International Space Station.

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