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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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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