December has been circled on the NASA calendar for a long time.  That's when the Orion spacecraft makes its first test flight.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden says the four and a half hour mission is the initial step for a flight into deep space.

“Exploration flight test one, or EFT-1, as we call it, is a critical part of that strategy,” Bolden says, “and a big step forward on the path to Mars.”

Bolden says the Orion will carry astronauts farther into space than any have flown in 40 years.  An update on the program's status was given yesterday at Kennedy Space Center.

He calls Orion a “tangible piece of our path to Mars.”