NASA Orion Test At White Sands

Las Cruces – NASA engineers catapulted the new Orion crew capsule about a mile into the air in New Mexico as hundreds of people watched the early morning test.

The launch at White Sands Missile Range in the barren southern New Mexico desert left a stream of white smoke as the unmanned capsule arched through the sky and landed about a mile north of the launch site. Several hundred people watched the test early Thursday.

The tests are aimed at Orion's launch-abort system, which will whisk astronauts and the capsule to safety in case of a problem.

The Orion capsule was originally designed to take people back to the moon. A NASA official says its purpose now hasn't been determined.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.