NASA scrubs Orion launch; will try again Friday

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NASA scrubs Orion launch; will try again Friday
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 04: A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft sits on its launch pad as it is prepared for a 7:05 AM launch on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
CAPE CANAVERAL , FL - December 5: The space craft Orion lifted off with the use of a Delta IV Heavy rocket Friday, December 5, 2014 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Orion fitted with United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy rocket traveled into space to orbit Earth twice before returning into the Pacific Ocean near the coast of San Diego. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
The NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 05: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Jackie Bolden watch as the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 05: The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft takes off from the launch pad on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. . (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
The NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Photographers follow the launch of the NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
After a 22-mile journey from the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, the Orion Spacecraft arrives at Space Launch Complex 37B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The test flight for Orion is scheduled to launch on Dec. 4. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
The NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 04: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop is seen illuminated in the distance in this long exposure photograph taken early at Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, sits on the launch pad before its first scheduled unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
A NASA Orion capsule on top of a Delta IV rocket lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from Complex 37 B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
A NASA Orion capsule on top of a Delta IV rocket lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from Complex 37 B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 05: A long camera exposure photographs the Orion team members watching the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 04: A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft sits on its launch pad as it is prepared for a 7:05 AM launch on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, arrives at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, departs the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on its way to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Technicians make final preparations on the 18,000-pound Orion deep space exporation vehicle that was soon to be dropped into a pool of water with an impact pitch of 43-degrees after being lifted high enough on a gantry to allow it on release to swing at 47 MPH(76.6 kph) on January 6, 2012, to simulate all parachutes being deployed and landing in a worse case senario in rough seas at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This type of extreme angle landing isn't likely to occur but is an essential part of thorough testing. The Orion would eventually be launched by a Delta IV heavy rocket and the multi-destination deep-space crew vehicle is currently slated to visit a asteroid. The US space agency has already spent $5-billion(USD) on the capsule and it's first orbital flight test is scheduled for early 2014. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
The new Orion crew capsule is catapulted into the air on Thursday, May 6, 2010 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., during a test of 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. The Orion capsule was originally designed to take astronauts back to the moon. But President Obama in February killed NASA's $100 billion plans to return to the moon, redirecting the money for new rocket technology research. (AP Photo/Craig Fritz)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 27: A worker pushes a cart past an Orion capsule mock-up inside the (SVMF) Space Vehicle Mock-Up Facility at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center on August 27, 2013 in Houston, Texas. The facility is home to a full size mock-up of the International Space Station where astronauts train prior to service. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, arrives at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A mock up of the 18,000-pound Orion deep space exporation vehicle is lifted at a high impact pitch of 43-degrees and lifted high enough on the gantry to allow it on release to swing at 47 MPH(76.6 kph) into a pool of water January 6, 2012, to simulate all parachutes being deployed and landing in a worse case senario in rough seas at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This type of extreme angle landing isn't likely to occur but is an essential part of thourgh testing. The Orion would eventually be launched by a Delta IV heavy rocket and the multi-destination deep-space crew vehicle is currently slated to visit a asteroid. The US space agency has already spent $5-billion(USD) on the capsule and it's first orbital flight test is scheduled for early 2014. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A technician flips over the mock up of the 18,000-pound Orion deep space exporation vehicle that was dropped into a pool of water with an impact pitch of 43-degrees after being lifted high enough on the gantry to allow it on release to swing at 47 MPH(76.6 kph) on January 6, 2012, to simulate all parachutes being deployed and landing in a worse case senario in rough seas at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This type of extreme angle landing isn't likely to occur but is an essential part of thorough testing and the final design would feature an onboard uprighting system. The Orion would eventually be launched by a Delta IV heavy rocket and the multi-destination deep-space crew vehicle is currently slated to visit a asteroid. The US space agency has already spent $5-billion(USD) on the capsule and it's first orbital flight test is scheduled for early 2014. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, moves toward the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington practice recovering an Orion capsule Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 into the well deck of the USS Arlington as part of NASA's first key Orion stationary recovery test at Naval Station Norfolk. NASA is partnering with the U.S. Navy to develop procedures to recover the Orion capsule and crew after splashdown. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Seaman Andrew Schneider)
This Wednesday Feb. 19, 2014 photo released by NASA shows a test version of the Orion spacecraft, tethered inside the well deck of the USS San Diego prior to testing between NASA and the U.S. Navy. NASA and the Navy suspended the test Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 off the coast of San Diego after a problem was discovered. (AP Photo/NASA)
This Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 photo released by NASA shows crews testing a test version of Orion's forward bay cover, NASA's next-generation space capsule. NASA and the Navy suspended the test Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 off the coast of San Diego after a problem was discovered. (AP Photo/NASA)
The service structure is rolled away from NASA's Orion spaceship early Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled to lift off later this morning on a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket on its first unmanned orbital test flight. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 03: In this handout provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft is seen at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37, December 3, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
This photo provided by NASA-TV, shows the view from the Orion spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket as it climbs to orbit during the first test flight Friday Dec. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/NASA-TV)
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Wind gusts and sticky fuel valves conspired to keep NASA's new Orion spacecraft on the launch pad Thursday, delaying a crucial test flight meant to revitalize human exploration.

NASA promised to try again Friday morning, as tens of thousands of disappointed and weary launch guests hustled out.

"I'm running on no hours of sleep, zero, zero hours," said Sarah McNulty, a space educator who was helping NASA escort the several-hundred news media on hand. She said she'd be back again by sunrise, "bright and early."

NASA's new countdown clock got a workout as problem after problem cropped up in the final four minutes, and the count switched back and forth.

A stray boat in the launch-danger zone kicked things off badly. Then excessive wind twice halted the countdown, followed by valve trouble on the unmanned Delta IV rocket that could not be fixed in time. Declining battery power in the rocket's video camera system reinforced the decision to quit for the day.

NASA Launch of Orion Spacecraft Scrubbed for Today

"It was a roller coaster: We're going, we're not going," McNulty said. "But that's how the launch business is."

Orion is how NASA hopes to one day send astronauts to Mars. This inaugural flight, while just 4 1/2 hours, will send the unmanned capsule 3,600 miles into space.

It's the first attempt to send a spacecraft capable of carrying humans beyond a couple hundred miles of Earth since the Apollo moon program.

The ultimate goal, in the decades ahead, is to use Orion to carry people to Mars and back.

An estimated 27,000 guests gathered for the historic send-off - roads leading into Kennedy Space Center were packed well before dawn - and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the shuttle-flying days. "Go Orion!!" urged a hotel billboard in nearby Cocoa Beach.

A Thursday launch would have been special for another reason: NASA launch commentator Mike Curie noted that it was the 16th anniversary of the launch of the first U.S. piece of the International Space Station, by shuttle Endeavour. "That was the beginning of the space station, and today is the dawn of Orion," he said.

Among the dozen or so active astronauts in attendance - and even more former ones - was Anna Fischer, one of NASA's original spacewomen, and now assigned to the Orion program. Like so many others, Fisher voiced disappointment at the delay, but noted: "It's way more important to have a successful flight."

"It was so much fun to come out here and have that same atmosphere as before a shuttle launch," Fisher said. "We really miss that. That's why we're here. This is what we love."

Orion is aiming for two orbits on this inaugural run. On the second lap around the home planet, the spacecraft should reach a peak altitude of 3,600 miles, high enough to ensure a re-entry speed of 20,000 mph and an environment of 4,000 degrees. Splashdown will be in the Pacific off the Mexican Baja coast, where Navy ships already are waiting.

NASA's Mission Control in Houston was all set to oversee the entire 4 1/2-hour operation once the rocket was in flight, with legendary Apollo 11 and 13 flight director Gene Kranz showing up to watch. The flight program was loaded into Orion's computers well in advance, allowing the spacecraft to fly essentially on autopilot. Flight controllers could intervene in the event of an emergency breakdown.

The spacecraft is rigged with 1,200 sensors to gauge everything from heat to vibration to radiation. At 11 feet tall with a 16.5-foot base, Orion is bigger than the old-time Apollo capsules and, obviously, more advanced. As NASA's program manager Mark Geyer noted, "The inside of the capsule is totally different."

NASA deliberately kept astronauts off this first Orion.

Managers want to test the riskiest parts of the spacecraft - the heat shield, parachutes, various jettisoning components - before committing to a crew. The earliest Orion might carry passengers is 2021; asteroids are on the space agency's radar sometime in the 2020s and Mars, the grand prize, in the 2030s.

Lockheed Martin Corp., which is handling the $370 million test flight for NASA, opted for the powerful Delta IV rocket this time around. Future Orion missions will rely on NASA's still-in-development megarocket known as SLS, or Space Launch System. The first Orion-SLS combo launch is targeted for 2018.

NASA's last trip beyond low-Earth orbit in a vessel built for people was Apollo 17 in December 1972, the last time men set foot on the moon.

"It's a thrilling prospect when you think about actually exploring the solar system," space station commander Butch Wilmore said from orbit as the Orion countdown entered its final hour. "Who knows where it will take us, who knows where it will go. We'll find out as time goes forward, but this first step is a huge one."

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