NASA's Mars vehicle Orion to take off for test flight today

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Washington, Dec 4: The American space agency NASA's spacecraft, designed to carry human beings farther in deep space, is set to be launched on Thursday, said a AFP report. The event has been hailed as the first step in mankind's journey to Mars.

The Orion spacecraft will be launched aboard the country's largest rocket - Delta IV Heavy made by United Launch Alliance. No astronaut will be on board the spacecraft at the time of take off.  The chief contractor of the Orion capsule is Lockheed Martin.

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This is the first time a US spacecraft, meant to carry people into deep space, is being launched. The Apollo mission carried people to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The Apollo space shuttle retired in 2011.

The Orion mission is vast and costly, said the report, adding that NASA has already spent billions of dollars on Orion and the powerful rocket meant to propel it with crew on board, the Space Launch System (SLS).

The US space program has been facing a lull for some time now, thanks to budget restriction imposed by the government. The AFP report said that Orion was first designed to take humans to the Moon as part of NASA's Constellation program. But it was cancelled by President Barack Obama in 2010, in order to seek new destinations in deep space.

Read more: Space War: NASA's Curiosity beats India's MOM while at work on Mars

Read more: Mars mission: List of successes and failures

In the future, Orion, which can fit four people at a time, will travel to lasso,an asteroid, and by 2030, it will carry people to Mars, said the report. The first Orion test flight with people on board is scheduled for 2021.

Orion's first orbit will be about as high as the International Space Station, which circles at an altitude of about 270 miles (430 kilometres). The second will soar 15 times higher, to an apogee of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometres) above the Earth, said the AFP report.

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