Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NASA Considering Missions for Deep Space Habitats (mini space stations)

As NASA works on plans to fly humans on long-duration missions between the Earth and moon in the 2020s, the agency is also starting to think about what astronauts would do on those flights.

While NASA officials have talked for months about the possibility of developing cislunar habitats as an intermediate step in its plans for eventual human missions to the moon, the concept received an official endorsement in NASA’s “Journey to Mars” report published in October.

“NASA and its partners will also develop an initial habitation capability for short-duration missions in cislunar space during the early 2020s and evolve this capability for long-duration missions in the later 2020s,” the report states. “With this long-duration habitable volume and resources, NASA and its partners will have the opportunity to validate Mars habitat concepts and systems.”

Those long-duration missions could last as long as one year. “We’re going to use this one-year shakedown cruise in cislunar space to prove that all of our systems and crew health equipment, and our crews interacting with all of that equipment, can remain healthy, productive and relatively happy,” said Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters, during a Nov. 5 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee here.

While the primary purpose of those missions will be to test systems intended for later Mars missions, Scimemi said that the agency is looking at what other things astronauts in a cislunar habitat could do. “Once you have that capability to have humans in cislunar space for a year, or even for six months or two months, there are things that they can do and be productive at to meet other goals,” he said.

One of those things is something NASA already has on the books: the Asteroid Redirect Mission, where a crewed Orion spacecraft will dock with a boulder retrieved from a near Earth asteroid and moved into orbit around the moon. “Asteroid Redirect Mission fits into that perfectly,” he said.

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