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When NASA announced plans for sending humans on deep space exploration, their dream was met with a mix of wistfulness and scorn, as few believed it would ever become a reality. As the Orion spacecraft worked its way through design, development, and systems testing, that same disbelief continued to haunt it. Even those hopeful that it would take shape as a vessel to carry humans beyond the Earth-Moon system were convinced it would be the archetype of a government project: over-budget, behind schedule, and ultimately unfulfilling.

This December, NASA proved the doubters wrong. For the first and only uncrewed test flight, Orion went through its paces absolutely perfectly, blasting out of Florida, soaring through the Van Allen radiation belts, and splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. On one hand, it was just a test flight. On the other, this was real, undeniable progress in moving from a dream to a reality. The next time Orion heads to space it will be with astronauts on board, and the time after that will be to carry humans to an asteroid. NASA is trying to do something outrageously ambitious on a starvation budget and this could all fall apart, but if it keeps working, Orion's test flight was the first real step on an incredible journey.