Why NASA's Orion Is Not Your Granddaddy's Spacecraft

See what makes the space agency's next-generation spacecraft so special.

— -- Orion is not your granddaddy's spacecraft. Think of it as an Apollo spacecraft on steroids, and the spacecraft of NASA's dreams -- a machine that could take astronauts out into deep space where no one has gone before.

"We've got smartphones in our pockets, but the physics and atmosphere hasn't changed since the 60's," Smith told ABC News on Tuesday. "This capsule shape facilitates deep space exploration. The shuttle could never return from deep space locations. It could not withstand the extreme G loads and heating. Orion has been designed for those challenging environments."

Orion will launch on a Delta IV Heavy Rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday morning and orbit Earth two and a half times before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of California.

If this test succeeds, the next step will be another launch to circle the Moon in 2018, then a manned mission to the Moon in 2020.