The Orion Spacecraft Glides Into Orbit, 'Sesame Street' Props In Tow — PHOTOS

Second time's the charm. After nixing plans to launch on Thursday due to technical glitches, NASA launched its Orion spacecraft successfully on Friday morning. The unmanned test flight is expected to orbit the earth at two different altitudes, snap some breathtaking shots of our planet, and possibly live-stream video footage before splashing down to the Pacific Ocean four hours after launch. What is most exciting about Orion's launch is that the spacecraft could usher in a new chapter in space exploration, one that takes us to uncharted territories like Mars and asteroids.

Orion was originally scheduled to launch on Thursday morning, but NASA postponed it due to difficulty with closing some of the fuel valves in the booster rockets. On Friday morning, however, Orion blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral without any problems. The spacecraft's Delta IV launch rocket carried it into its first orbit eight minutes after blast off, and then will later bring Orion to a much higher altitude of 3,600 miles above earth.

Originally announced by NASA on May 24, 2011, Orion was designed and built to facilitate human exploration of the moon and beyond. Friday's launch kicks off the beginning of this unprecedented chapter in space travel that will hopefully see humans studying the surfaces of asteroids and the planet Mars. By the time of its first manned flight, which is slated for 2021, Orion will be able to carry a crew of four astronauts on a 21-day mission into deep space, or six crew members for a shorter period of time.

Orion's launch, which was the first time in 42 years NASA sent a human-intended spacecraft that far above the earth, has reinvigorated the space community, and its exhilaration was palpable on Friday. Orion's flight director at Johnson Space Center, Mike Sarafin, said in a briefing before the launch:

We haven't had this feeling in a while, since the end of the shuttle program.

Just by viewing these stunning pictures, it's not difficult to fathom their excitement.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images News/Getty Images

While the initial test flight didn't carry any humans into space, Orion technically had a crew on board — more than a million people, in fact, whose names were on a dime-sized microchip. In addition to that, Orion also carried some Sesame Street props — Cookie Monster's cookie and Ernie's rubber ducky — an oxygen hose from an Apollo 11 lunar spacesuit, and a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil from the Denver Science Museum.

Images: Getty Images (7)