NASA is mulling on housing its astronauts inside huge inflatable space lodges during their future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond, news agency Reuters has reported. The US space agency officials and veteran astronauts are already reviewing the potential habitats built by different companies for its Gateway – the planned research outpost in the orbit of the Moon.
The Gateway will be housing and transferring the astronauts to the lunar surface. Dozens of NASA officials have examined as many as five different space habitat mockups made by different companies, the report said.
“The whole point is to define what we like and what we don’t like about these different habitats,” the report said quoting NASA astronaut Mike Gernhardt as saying.
Gernhardt is the principal investigator for the testing campaign. He along with his team made a final inspection at the headquarters of Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas. Bigelow Aerospace is a space habitat company that was founded by the US hotel chain billionaire Robert Bigelow.
At present, the space agency is working towards sending its first team of astronauts which includes the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. It is working on procuring Moon landers, robotic rovers and preparing the Lunar Gateway – a modular space station which will be having quarters for astronauts, a science lab and ports for spacecraft.
“Gateway is an opportunity to test all these structures in a deep space environment… as a prelude to going to Mars,” the report said quoting Bigelow as saying. “Potentially we think that for the rest of this century, the expandable architecture is where it’s at.”
Bigelow Aerospace’s habitat, which is called B330, is compacted inside a rocket and then launched from Earth. It is made up of fabric-like material designed to shield inhabitants from deep-space radiation and high-speed space debris.
Once it gets docked alongside other Gateway modules, the habitat will unfurl into a two-story, 55-foot-long (16-meter-long) outpost which is big enough to bring in six astronauts.
The colonisation and lunar space habitat programme is likely to cost over a billion dollars through 2028.
Apart from Bigelow Aerospace, there are four other private space companies that are making mockups. These companies include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Lockheed Martin.
Each of these companies has received a portion of $65 million allotted in 2017 by NASA for developing prototype habitats. The proposed funding of next year includes $500 million to begin with the development of the initial version of the Gateway.
NASA wants the habitat to come with exercise equipment, a kitchen, dark noise-cancelling sleep stations and a toilet. We need “a reliable and easy-to-use toilet that’s in a location that minimizes the potential for cross contamination with science and meal preparation activities,” the Reuters report said quoting Gernhardt. He and two other astronauts spent three days living in each prototype habitat as part of the inspection process.
Lockheed Martin has equipped its space lodge with beds, tables and windows in a 15 feet wide and 22 feet long stainless steel structure. “The space you’re living in has to be reconfigurable for the task at hand,” Lockheed’s habitat program manager Bill Pratt said.