Congress Funds Deep Space Habitat For Mars Mission In 2018

We might just be getting closer to our dreams of sending man to Mars as NASA just received instruction from Congress to start working on a deep space habitat in preparation for a Mars mission in 2018.

One of the biggest hurdles that has slowed down NASA in making further developments in space exploration over the years is having sufficient funds to build the best possible vessel and equipment for the astronauts in their journey to Mars.

Case in point: the Orion exploration spacecraft, which, according to the official NASA website, “is designed to carry astronauts to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars.” At the moment, this vessel has limited space for astronauts to move around – a serious issue considering that a journey takes at least six months.

NASA’s vision of ideal living conditions of a deep space habitat would include more space for privacy, exercise, and social interactions with fellow astronauts. But while the design of the module has yet to be conceptualized, NASA experts are already visualizing the habitation module to be linked to the Orion capsule in space.

The omnibus spending bill, which was passed by Congress earlier this month, not only increases NASA’s funding by $1.3 billion, but also directs the space agency to build a deep space habitat “within the advanced exploration systems program no later than 2018,” as reported by SpaceNews.

A report attached to this bill also indicates a minimum of $55 million coming from the Advanced Exploration Research Systems program, to be allocated to the augmentation of the deep space habitat. This program is part of the Exploration Research and Development section of the budget, which was granted $350 million by the omnibus spending bill.

Naturally, as part of accountability and checks and balance, NASA will have to provide regular reports to Congress on the progress of the deep space habitat within 180 days of the bill taking effect.

The director of the International Space Station at the NASA headquarters, Sam Scimemi, spoke with SpaceNews and revealed that he has yet to determine the specific details of how the funding will be spent as well as the requirements and features of the deep space habitat.

NASA has been advocating the development of a deep space habitat within the spacecraft that they plan to test in cislunar space around the 2020s. Once the module is good to go, it will be used to transport astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s.

Scimemi added that it might be too early to provide details about the development of the deep space habitat, and he would rather keep mum than spark speculation.

“It’s much too early for that. As soon as I put a picture up there, somebody is going to assume what the configuration is,” he said.

Apart from the deep space habitat, NASA is also trying to develop the crew capsule that will guide deep-space explorers to their destinations. The development of this vessel will actually take much longer to complete than the habitation module.

The space agency has collaborated with several private research firms through its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships or NextSTEP for the development of the habitation module. So far, Bigelow Aerospace’s inflatable deep space habitat is a promising concept, but other active private partners include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK.

Scimemi says that each partnership contract is valued at up to $1 million for a year’s worth of research, but will greatly benefit the development of the deep space habitat. “We plan to leverage the output of those studies to shape our plan and then go to a next round,” he said.

[Image by NASA, Getty Images]