NASA already has people living in space, but the technology in place at the International Space Station isn’t suited to support human life on the next frontier—the cold, red planet Mars. NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) has given the green light to six deep space habitat projects which will be built and tested in Earth’s safer atmosphere long before there is any talk of sending them into outer space. Early concept designs, just released, reveal just how different deep space habitats might look once people are ready to live near Mars.
Each habitat prototype is backed by a different private U.S. company. The six companies are Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, Boeing of Pasadena, Texas, Lockheed Martin of Denver, Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado, and NanoRacks of Webster, Texas. The six habitats have the same goal: keep humans and equipment safe even in the notoriously inhospitable climes of places like Mars. However, how each habitat looks and works differs greatly from one to the next.
“NASA is on an ambitious expansion of human spaceflight, including the Journey to Mars, and we’re utilizing the innovation, skill and knowledge of both the government and private sectors,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems which manages the NextSTEP program. “The next human exploration capabilities needed beyond the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are deep space, long duration habitation and in-space propulsion. We are now adding focus and specifics on the deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth.”
Over the next two years, the six partner companies will work to develop ground prototypes and run concept studies to explore options for deep space habitats with Mars and other far-reaching destinations in mind. Each habitat will include a pressurized cabin, with complex integrated systems controlling docking functions, environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS), radiation mitigation, fire safety, and crew health capabilities.
Images via NASA, Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NanoRacks, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corporation