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Photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls
Photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls

Exploring, and perhaps one day establishing a colony on Mars, just got a little bit closer to reality today thanks to a successful test mission with Orion.

After a delays on Thursday, NASA successfully launched Orion from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. “The long-distance spacecraft, which is designed to one day carry human passengers to and from Mars, spent 4.5 hours circling Earth’s orbit before it splashed down off the coast of Mexico,” reported Fast Company.

NASA reports that Orion orbited the Earth twice, reaching altitudes of approximately 3,600 miles, before landing. That’s right, in about the same time it takes to fly from NYC to LA, it made it around the world. Twice.

The mission’s primary purpose was to test Orion‘s heat shields and parachutes. This test flight, handled by Lockheed Martin, cost about $370 million. Considered a passenger vessel, NASA is anticipating the earliest manned spaceflights to the Red Planet could begin as early as 2021.

Watch the liftoff below:

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