NASA is optimistic that it has taken a major step toward landing a human being on Mars or an asteroid after yesterday's successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft.

"I would describe it as the beginning of the Mars era," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said on NASA TV.

Engineers will evaluate data records from 1,200 sensors placed on Orion, which was traveling at speeds of up to 20,000 miles per hour during the 4.5-hour mission that took the spacecraft more than 3,600 miles away from Earth.

Photos/Video: Unmanned Rocket Explodes 6 Seconds After Liftoff

Former NASA engineer and astronaut Clayton Anderson joined Uma Pemmaraju on "America's News Headquarters" today and said that this is a great - albeit small - step in the right direction, but they really need to get the American taxpayers behind the idea, since funding is so important.

"Americans are kind of impatient. We want things right now. But I think they have to understand that many, many great things come from that taxpayer investment into the space program," Anderson said.

He added that commercial spaceflight by private companies is another important part of the future of space travel.

"We have to have a combination of our government-led effort to keep our country as the preeminent space-faring nation, but it's great to have these wonderful private companies who are doing some great things as well."

He explained that a trip to Mars would likely take 6 to 9 months to reach the planet. Then, after 6 to 9 months on the "Red Planet," one would have to wait for the planets to align for a 6 to 9-month trip home, making it a 27-month trip, give or take, according to Anderson.

Watch the clip above and check out a video of Orion landing in the Pacific Ocean, filmed from the recovery ship, the USS Anchorage.