Considering Orion.

Scientific American takes a moment, after all the hubbub last week, to think over what the success of the Orion launch means for NASA and the future of human spaceflight:

“We haven’t had this feeling in a while, since the end of the shuttle program,” Orion flight director Mike Sarafin of the Johnson Space Center in Houston said Wednesday before the liftoff. “We’re launching an American spacecraft from American soil and beginning something new and exploring deep space.” Since the last space shuttle landed in 2011, U.S. astronauts have hitched rides to space with the Russians, but NASA is hoping Orion will begin carrying crews by 2021. Sarafin noted that all the flight controllers in mission control for the test flight are veterans of the shuttle program. “There is a little bit of a sense of getting the band back together.”

Orion has been in the works since 2005 and was originally envisioned by the Bush administration to fly astronauts back to the moon. The program suffered funding shortfalls and delays and was almost scrapped by President Obama before being redefined as a “multipurpose crew vehicle.” The 3.3-meter-tall and five-meter-wide cone is designed to carry two to six astronauts for up to 21 days.

Today’s roughly $370-million test flight paves the way for a possible first crewed flight that would send astronauts to orbit the moon. A follow-on mission would carry people to an asteroid that a robotic mission will have lassoed in and brought close to the moon’s orbit. Eventually, the capsule could take crews to Mars—if it connects to another space habitat for the long journey.