BALTIMORE (WJZ) — NASA is a step closer to launching astronauts from U.S. soil again. Space-X will ferry crew members to the International Space Station starting in 2017.

And then, Mary Bubala reports, NASA will launch a new spacecraft with an old twist.

Sixty-five miles out into the Pacific Ocean sits NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. It’s designed to take American astronauts back into deep space.

“It will be the first time in 40 years that this nation, the most powerful nation in the world, has ever designed and built a spacecraft intended to carry humans beyond low Earth orbit. And that’s a big, big deal,” said Charles Bolden, NASA administrator.

If it looks a bit familiar, it should. Orion is the distant relative of Apollo, which also touched down in the Pacific.

Apollo is the spaceship that took man to the moon, so Orion is a bit of a back-to-the-future moment for NASA. The technology on this $9 billion project is light-years ahead of Apollo. It was built by Lockheed Martin.

It will hold up to six astronauts, who will be able to explore distant asteroids and even the moons of Mars.

Orion is critical to NASA because the agency retired the space shuttle program in 2011. That has forced American astronauts to rely on the Russians for rides into space, including Baltimore’s own Reid Wiseman, who launched to the International Space Station from Russia this summer.

The United States pays Russia $70 million per seat for the ride into orbit, so many are happy Orion will get the U.S. back into the space race.

This winter, Orion will take its first test run into space–unmanned–and will travel 3,600 miles above the Earth. That’s 15 times farther than the International Space Station.

The first American astronauts are expected to board Orion in 2021. Their destination is still unknown.

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