The U.S. space agency’s Orion spacecraft completed Friday its first unmanned spaceflight test, marking what it called "a major milestone on Agency’s journey to Mars.”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, said that Orion travelled “farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts” in more than 40 years.

“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Orion was launched Friday at 7:05 a.m. local time, or 12:05 GMT atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida and made splashdown nearly four hours and half later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

Orion traveled twice through the Van Allen belt around Earth, where it experienced high periods of radiation, and reached an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth.

“ Orion also hit speeds of 20,000 mph and weathered temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it entered Earth’s atmosphere,”NASA said.

After reaching Moon, NASA aims to send mankind to Mars, the nearest planet to Earth. Friday’s step was a small one, but critical in the way to the Red Planet.

The space agency said that on future missions, Orion will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System, or the SLS heavy-lift rocket.

“A 70 metric-ton SLS will send Orion to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on Exploration Mission-1 in the first test of the fully integrated Orion and SLS system,” it said in a statement.

Anadolu Agency