NASA’s return to manned spaceflight is one step closer today. A launch readiness review was conducted yesterday and all systems are ‘go.’

But, will mother nature play the spoiler? Weather forecasts gave the Orion mission a 60% chance of launch at the beginning of the week. With less than 24 hours to go until launch, those chances have gone up to 70%. Previously forecasted chances of coastal showers are lower today.

Wind and potential rain remain the biggest obstacles for tomorrow’s launch.

Orion’s scheduled liftoff is at 7:05 am ET tomorrow morning. There will be a launch window of 2 hours and 39 minutes for Orion to liftoff.

The Orion launch and mission coverage will be streamed live on NASA TV starting at 4:30 am ET.

Tomorrow’s test launch will be one of the most closely monitored in history. Teams of researchers, engineers and even military personnel will train their eyes to the sky as they wait for Orion’s splashdown.

NASA’s SCIFLI (Scientifically Calibrated In-Flight Imagery) team will board a U.S. Navy NP-3D plane, also called Orion, to capture thermal pictures of the Orion capsule’s re-entry.

“This is going to be a tough one. Orion will come through the atmosphere at 20,000 miles an hour as a tiny dot in the sky. With the capsule initially hundreds of miles away, it is like we are looking for it through a small soda straw,” said Tom Horvath, SCIFLI principal investigator, in a statement a few days ago.

“It’s all about getting the aircraft positioned at the right location at a precise point in time. The action will be in the last-minute. Temperatures will go from very low to up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”

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Orion plane

The thermal imagery will provide more information of how Orion’s heat shield performed during re-entry. Having concrete data will “reduce uncertainty in our computer models,” Orion Systems Engineer Gavin Mendeck said.

Another NP-3D plane will observe Orion’s descent as it deploys its parachutes. Orion comes with two sets of parachutes. The first parachutes, called drogues, deploy at 22,000 feet. These parachutes will help stabilize the capsule before deploying the main parachutes. The three main chutes will slow the Orion to less than 20 mph as it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

Two helicopters will document the final 10,000 feet of Orion’s inaugural journey, while a Predator drone will provide a live feed of Orion’s splashdown during tomorrow’s live coverage.

Image credit: NASA, U.S. Navy

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