SpaceTechnology

It’s possible that private habitats, rather than the International Space Station, will be required to send astronauts to Mars

Private space stations could prove to be an important major step on humanity’s journey to Mars. NASA intends to send astronauts to the moon this decade and Mars in the 2030s. To help realize these lofty goals, NASA is conducting extensive research aboard the ISS (International Space Station), such as tracking astronaut health, behavior, and performance over the course of year-long orbital missions to effectively comprehend the impacts of long-duration space travel on the human mind and body.

However, according to a new assessment from the NASA Office of Inspector General, the venerable ISS, that is aged 23 years and has housed rotating astronaut crews constantly since November 2000, will not be here long enough to see this task through (OIG).

“Under the Agency’s [NASA’s] existing plans, both health risk reduction and technology demos will not be completed by 2030 — the ISS’s planned departure date,” the 41-page document concludes, that got released on November 30. (The ISS is only technically permitted to operate until 2024, but the report warns that “an extension until 2030 is likely.”)

This result would not come as a surprise to NASA. The government is promoting the construction of commercial (private) space stations to cover the gaps in orbital research, with the objective of getting a minimum of one such commercial (private) outpost operational by the year 2028. And, according to the report, its efforts have yielded results.

“We discovered that the Agency’s near-term activities show promise,” the paper continues, “with NASA’s recent attempts leading in market interest and expansion, particularly for commercial astronaut flights.”

In the next two years, Axiom Space, based in Houston, aims to fly four private crewed flights to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules. First of these flights is on its way, with a start date set for February 2022. Veteran NASA astronauts will command the first two missions, with the possibility of doing so for the remainder as well.

Axiom also plans to deploy a private module to the International Space Station in September 2024, followed by three further modules over the next 3 years. “With the shipping of the 4th module, Axiom Station will be capable of being impartial of the International Space Station and can then detach to become an impartial, next-generation space station featuring upgraded crew quarters, increased payload capacity, as well as a research lab module and dedicated manufacturing module,” Matt Ondler, who works as Axiom Chief Technology Officer recently told Space.com via email. “This schedule supports the present projected end of ISS life,” Ondler noted. “There should be a smooth transition with no interruptions in human continuous existence in low Earth orbit (LEO).”

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