NASA unveiled its Orion space capsule on Monday.
Scientists said the ship will define the new future of American manned space exploration.
"It will travel farther into space than any spacecraft designed for humans has flown in the 40 years, since our astronauts went to the moon," said Lori Garver, a NASA deputy administrator.
The Orion team has an ambitious goal -- an unmanned test flight in two years, to travel to an asteroid by the 2020s and a trip to Mars in 2030.
"It's a new and exciting chapter in America's great space exploration story, one that will see more discoveries, more scientific return and more people and Americans going into space and going places that have never before been visited," said Garver.
The long-range vision has been made possible in part with a new partnership with private companies, which will handle low Earth orbits and service to the International Space Station.
The partnership gives scientists and astronauts time to focus on bigger missions.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge to take a vehicle like this and go off on a three year mission," said astronaut Rex Walheim.
The initial benefits of Orion will also come more quickly to the struggling industry.
"We, through this program, are going to be ending the outsourcing of American space jobs and bringing them right back here to America and to Florida and to other states across the country," said Garver.
The Orion program could bring about 350 jobs to the Florida Space Coast and to Houston.