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NASA postpones Orion launch until Friday

NASA postponed until Friday the launch of its Orion deep space capsule due to wind gusts and technical problems with the Delta IV Heavy rocket, the space agency said on Thursday.

world Updated: Dec 04, 2014 20:45 IST

NASA postponed until Friday the launch of its Orion deep space capsule due to wind gusts and technical problems with the Delta IV Heavy rocket, the space agency said on Thursday.

The new launch window for the unmanned test flight opens Friday morning at 7:05 am (1205 GMT).

The capsule is meant to carry humans to an asteroid or Mars in the coming years.

No astronauts were on board the spacecraft, poised atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral, now set to blast off at 8:26 am (1326 GMT), an hour and 21 minutes after the initial target time.

The launch window ends at 9:44 am (1444 GMT). Tourists and space enthusiasts lined the area known as Florida's Space Coast to see the take-off at sunrise, and 27,000 guests were at the Kennedy Space Center for a close-up look.

The Mobile Service Tower rolls back from the Delta IV Heavy with the Orion spacecraft on launch pad 37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Reuters)

The capsule's four-and-a-half hour test flight is due to carry the spacecraft around the Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

The launch is the first of a US spacecraft meant to carry people into deep space in more than four decades, since the Apollo missions that brought men to the Moon.

With no American vehicle to send humans to space since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, some at NASA said the Orion launch has re-energized the US space program, long constrained by government belt-tightening and forced to rely on costly rides aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit.

Potential future missions for Orion, which is designed to fit four people at a time, include a trip to lasso an asteroid and a journey to Mars by the 2030s. "We haven't had this feeling in a while, since the end of the shuttle program, (of) launching an American spacecraft from America's soil and beginning something new," said Mike Sarafin, lead flight director at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Social media bloggers watch as the Mobile Service Tower rolls back from the Delta IV Heavy with the Orion spacecraft on launch pad 37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Reuters)

The launch was due to propel 1.63 million pounds (739,000 kilograms) of spacecraft, rocket and fuel straight to space, where the capsule was due to make two laps around the Earth before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean around 11:30 am (1630 GMT). The first orbit was to be about as high as the International Space Station, which circles at an altitude of about 430 kilometres, but the second would soar 15 times higher, to an apogee of 3,600 miles above the Earth. The chief contractor of the Orion capsule is Lockheed Martin.

The spacecraft was first designed to take humans to the Moon as part of NASA's Constellation program, which was cancelled by President Barack Obama in 2010, in favor or seeking new destinations in deep space.