U.S. space exploration planners say the next big piece of human hardware needed on the road to Mars is a modular habitat that could be stationed near the Moon and visited by early manned Orion capsule missions, building on ground- and space station-testing of “Mars-ready” habitation systems already in development
In a new report, NASA says the first flight of a habitation module could come as early as the first manned flight of the Orion capsule. The agency recently committed to a 2023 launch date for that mission, saying it didn’t have sufficient confidence to endorse the 2021 date still targeted by the Orion development program.
“Co-manifested payloads, potentially launched as early as Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), could include pressurized modules that extend the deep-space capabilities of the Orion spacecraft and help develop a deep-space habitation capability,” the agency states in “NASA’s Journey to Mars; Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration,” a report the agency drafted to answer congressional demands for more detail on its human-exploration plans.
Top agency managers already are discussing an early flight test of a habitation module that could be evolved and expanded to support a crew on its way to Mars. The module would be launched on the same heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) under development for eventual use in Mars exploration.
“We want to take it on a shakedown cruise and put it around the Moon,” Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot told a Capitol Hill audience Oct. 7 that included Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “And then we’ll have the systems in it that are designed for the longer-term duration, not designed for just being at the Moon, but to give us a chance to test those. We’ll do that on the backbone of the Space Launch System and Orion.”