Video and Photos: Orion Flight Brings Humans One Step Closer to Mars

12-5-14 Orion Reuters 3
The Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 5, 2014. Steve Nesius/Reuters

NASA launched Orion, a "next-generation spacecraft" that could eventually bring man to Mars, at 7:05 a.m. EST Friday morning. Originally scheduled to take place Thursday morning, the launch was delayed first because of wind gusts and then due to an issue with valves that are "used to fill and drain the first stage of the rocket with propellant prior to liftoff," according to NASA.

But Exploration Flight Test-1 successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday morning.

"Liftoff at dawn, the dawn of Orion and a new era of American space exploration," said Mike Curie on NASA TV.

The flight's goal was to "test many of the most vital elements for human spaceflight and will provide critical data needed to improve Orion's design and reduce risks to future mission crews," NASA says. The ultimate goal is to send astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

It's been a tumultuous year for space exploration. In November, a probe successfully landed on a comet. In October, a Virgin Atlantic spacecraft exploded during a test flight, killing one pilot. And recently, NASA celebrated 10 years of one of its satellites.

Orion returned to Earth a few hours after its launch, splashing down into the Pacific Ocean on schedule at roughly 11:30 a.m. EST. Orion orbited the Earth twice, traveling 60,000 miles and going farther into space than any ship for humans has in more than 40 years, according to NASA.

Take a look at the preparations and launch, from Thursday morning through Friday's successful liftoff:

12-5-14 Orion Reuters 1
The Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft sits on the launch pad awaiting liftoff in the sunrise at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 4, 2014. Scott Audette/Reuters
12-5-14 Orion Reuters 4
DATE IMPORTED:December 04, 2014News photographers and journalists watch as the sun rises on the Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft waiting for liftoff on the launch pad from the Cape Canveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 4, 2014. Scott Audette/Reuters
12-5-14 Orion Reuters 5
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA?s Orion spacecraft mounted atop is seen in this handout photo after the Mobile Service Tower was finished rolling back early on December 4, 2014, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37, Florida. The launch of NASA's deep-space Orion capsule on a test flight around Earth was delayed on December 4 after a last-minute technical problem with its rocket, NASA said. Bill Ingalls/NASA/Handout via Reuters
12-5-14 Orion Reuters 6
The Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft awaits liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 4, 2014. Scott Audette/Reuters
12-5-14 Orion Reuters 7
The Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 5, 2014. Michael Berrigan/Reuters
12-5-14 Orion Reuters 8
The Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 5, 2014. Scott Audette/Reuters

The spacecraft sent back images during its journey.

12-5-14 Orion 2
An onboard camera captures separation of the three 13 by 14-foot Orion service module fairings following lift off the Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The flight test also will validate systems such as Orion’s parachutes, avionics and attitude control, and demonstrate major separation events such as the launch abort system jettison and the service module fairing separation. NASA
12-5-14 Orion 3
An onboard camera records the separation of one of the Delta IV Heavy rocket boosters as it separates following lift off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying NASA's Orion spacecraft on an unpiloted flight test to Earth orbit. Liftoff was at 7:05 a.m. EST. During the two-orbit, four-and-a-half hour mission, engineers will evaluate the systems critical to crew safety, the launch abort system, the heat shield and the parachute system. NASA
12-5-14 Orion 4
An onboard camera provides a view of Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy lifts off carrying NASA's Orion spacecraft on an unpiloted flight test to Earth orbit. NASA
12-5-14 Orion 1
A camera in the window of NASA's Orion spacecraft looks back at Earth during its unpiloted flight test in orbit. NASA Television
12-5-14 Orion 5
A video camera onboard NASA's Orion spacecraft captured views out the window during the heat of re-entry is the capsule plumitted back toward Earth. NASA

Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at approximately 11:30 a.m. EST.

12-5-14 Orion 6
Following more than four hours in Earth orbit, NASA's Orion spacecraft is seen from an unpiloted aircraft as it descends under three massive red and white main parachutes. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean will take place at less than 20 mph. It will be recovered by the USS Anchorage, a landing platform-dock, or LPD, ship. NASA
12-5-14 Orion Reuters 2
The Orion spacecraft floats in the Pacific Ocean after splashdown in this December 5, 2014 NASA handout still image from video. NASA/Handout via Reuters

Excitement on social media was high as people followed the Orion launch and test flight: