As stated by Washington, technology, and engine construction is a challenging endeavor. Even more challenging is the concept of maintaining the health and livelihood of humans on a mission aimed at lasting 1,000 days.
NASA is busy perfecting the technicalities of propulsion systems and rocket specifications, while specialty engineers are given the job of dealing with the daily habitat of the people that will be on board. This valuable crew needs to be protected from space radiation and needs to have a safe anti-gravity environment. These astronauts must live long-term in an environment that is not normally suitable for human life. Their habitation goes far beyond simple survival in the area. They must also be able to conduct experiments and carry out other professional tasks.
Congress has set the spending requirement at a minimum of $55 million in consideration of the living habitat for these crew members. Some expansion plans are aimed at making adequate living space better to accommodate astronauts for a mission to Mars. This journey, named Orion, will require extremely sound structures for placement on the Red Planet. These structures will be used for both living and work.
Rep. Brian Babin is the chairperson of the House, Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space. He has explained the necessity of excellent habitats to ensure the safety of astronauts sent on long-term space missions. The understanding is that the only way to conduct studies in space is to house the humans properly in the “inhospitable environment”. Without these astronauts, there will be no experiments. They must be kept safe.
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Babin was a part of a panel that also included the author Andy Weir, as well as several companies taking the initiative to construct space habitats. Weir is the author of the book “The Martian” that follows the struggles of an astronaut stranded on Mars. His book was eventually made into a successful movie, as well.
NASA began petitioning for prototype proposals in April. The goal is to have a working prototype by the year 2018. The amount of $65 million will be used to fund contracts in continuation of this study. There are already some experiments in action. These are listed under the name NextSTEP.
One idea that is in testing involves the use of an inflatable habitat. This was delivered to the International Space Station last month. Bigelow Aerospace can be credited with its production. The habitat will be inflated and tested in space later this month. The shape is similar to a giant turkey baster bulb. Studies like this enable new equipment to be tested in a similar environment to where they will be used.
The mission to Mars is still many years away. The goal is to have a crew sent in the 2030’s. The date will be more secure once proper testing of equipment has been initiated and completed. The habitats must first be tested at the International Space Station, followed by lunar space and then sent to Mars.
Many necessities must be present in the habitat equipment. These include environmental control, life support systems, docking capability, logistics management, radiation mitigation and monitoring, crew health skills, and fire safety technologies. Jason Crusan is the head of Advanced Exploration Systems for NASA’s human space exploration division. He has mentioned these necessities as a part of the many needs attributed to space habitats.
At present, seven companies have been awarded contracts to be a part of the NextSTEP program. These companies are Begelow, Boeing, Dynetics, Inc., Lockheed Martin, UTC Aerospace Systems, Orbital ATK, and Orbital Technologies Inc.