Nasa unveils Orion capsule bound to take astronauts to Mars

Apollo Space Capsule Orion

It may look a little underwhelming but this tiny craft's lofty aim is to take astronauts out of an Earth orbit for the first time since the 1970s - and possibly land man on Mars.

In front of far more than 450 guests and dignitaries, Nasa officially unveiled the Orion crew capsule at a 'welcoming ceremony' at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Regardless of funding and arranging cuts at the space agency, the capsule is part of a concerted effort to kickstart a new era in deep space exploration by humans.

Pressure shell: Nasa's new Orion spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center. In the next 18 months the shell will be packed with avionics, instrumentation an flight computers

Taking shape: The Orion, which mimics the classic conical shape of the Apollo mission crew capsules, is one of the most advanced craft ever built

This capsule is not a mock-up or scale model but a working piece of space kit that is bound for an unmanned test flight in 2014.

It will be shot into orbit atop a Delta 4 rocket, speeding about the Earth 3,600 miles above the surface - which is about 15 times additional out than the current International Space Station orbit.

After two complete orbits, the capsule will re-enter the atmosphere at more than 20,000mph to test the craft and its heat shield.

Lori Garver, Nasa's deputy administrator, told the assembled crowd: 'This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation’s great space exploration story ( via ).

MORE: SpaceX Unveils New Dragon Capsule That Could Carry Astronauts To The ISS

MORE: Weak Sun Poses Radiation Risk for Mars-Bound Astronauts