We are just six months away from a critical test of NASA's next generation spacecraft.

But today we got a close up look at the capsule that crews at the Kennedy Space Center say will bring the U.S. back to space on it's own.

The mid 1970's mission dubbed Apollo-Soyuz is the last time a capsule like this headed to space.

But this spacecraft is much more advanced.

Now, 40 years later and post shuttle program, NASA aims to pave the way for a future trip to Mars, launching humans from right here at KSC.

"It gives us the chance to see how this vehicle will perform in the orbital environment as it faces some of the challenges it will endure on future missions to space," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told us today.

NASA's Orion capsule is nearly ready for it's big test flight which will take it thousands of miles above Earth.

The crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is now stacked on top of the service module, and soon technicians at KSC will put the capsule into the proper configuration for launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

"The work that went into this design sets us up very well for the next flights. And for eventually getting people into space," says Mark Geyer, NASA Orion Program Manager.

In December the spacecraft will liftoff for a four-hour, two-orbit flight, some 3,600 miles into space.

Orion will re-enter Earth's atmosphere at 20,000 miles per hour, enduring temperatures that will pass 4,000 degrees, before a Pacific Ocean splashdown.

NASA's key goals for the flight: test the heat shield which will protect astronauts from the intense heat of re-entry, and the parachute system for the water landing.

Officials also want to see how the craft protects from dangerous radiation levels in space, which is critical for long term, deep space missions.

And also to monitor Orion's computer system, the first of it's kind to head to space.

It's 25 times faster than the International Space Station computers, and 4,000 times faster than the it's predecessors in the Apollo Program.

Potential flights to Mars are targeted for the late 2020's. Administrator Bolden says they still have much to learn, and they must develop needed technology and the knowledge to get there.

Exploration Flight Test-1 is set for December 4, right next door on Pad 37 at the Cape Canaveral AFS.