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NASA Seeks Partner for Habitats on Mars

We’ve heard of Habitat for Humanity but what about habitats for Mars? Here’s your big opportunity to partner with NASA on coming up with travel and housing solutions for future space explorers.

NASA has the rocketry to get Mars explorers into space, the Orion space capsule. The capsule, though, only holds six astronauts and is too small for long-term travel and accommodations. Thus, NASA is lacking long-term housing for astronauts during the seven month long journey to the Red Planet. The Orion capsule would hook up to the habitat, drop off the astronauts and return to Earth. The habitat would house and take the explorers on their way to Mars. They are sort of looking for an RV large enough for private quarters and exercise equipment to keep muscles and bones strong for Mars exploration. After all, Mars has 2/3 the gravity of earth and astronauts need to be in tip-top shape to explore the planet’s surface.

Destination: Mars

Destination: Mars

Habitats are also needed for long-term stays on the surface of Mars itself. The habitat needs to be lightweight for transport and able to withstand and shield astronauts from space radiation.

This project is part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies Exploration Partnership-2 for NextSTEP-2. Jason Crusan, director, says,

NASA is increasingly embracing public-private partnerships to expand capabilities, and opportunities in space. Our NextSTEP partners commit their own corporate resources toward the development – making them a true partner in the spaceflight economy.

On December 18, 2015, the U.S. Congress ordered NASA to spend at least $55 million to develop a habitation module for deep space exploration and to have a prototype ready by 2018. By 2020, NASA wants to test the new space habitat on the Moon. The first mission to Mars is planned for 2030.

A couple of tentative ideas have been brought to the table. The most promising is the recent launch of Bigelow Aerospace’s inflatable habitat. It can be launched in compact form and expand for the journey, sort of like a high-tech tent. It is currently being tested on the International Space Station.

Rendering of BEAM, Inflatable Habitat

Rendering of BEAM, Inflatable Habitat

Another idea involves a revolving ring structure, which would provide artificial gravity for the astronauts en route to Mars. This would prevent the debilitating effect on bones and muscles caused by prolonged time in space. However, NASA isn’t quite sold on this option.

Julie Robinson, NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station says,

There are a couple of problems with that. The first is that it makes the habitat much larger and heavier than it would otherwise be. The more things weigh, the harder it is to get to Mars. We’re very weight-limited with the Mars mission. The other thing is that you have to design your engineering systems to deal with all that spinning the entire time, or what if the mechanism breaks, and they have to work in a microgravity environment?

Now that you know some of the facts, a notice of intent must be made to NextSTEP-2 by May 13 and the proposals must be in by June 15. Get busy!