NASA plans to build a “deep space gateway” around the moon as part of plans to send astronauts to Mars, the space agency’s director of human exploration announced this week.
NASA will launch four manned flights between 2018 and 2026 to the space around the moon in order to build a “gateway” station. The station consist of a science research module, a power source and an airlock for visiting vehicles and is intended to test systems used to send astronauts to Mars.
After the station is built, NASA will send the “Deep Space Transport vehicle” to the station. The U.S. manned missions to Mars in 2033 could take off from the moon using that vehicle.
“If we could conduct a yearlong crewed mission on this Deep Space Transport in cislunar space, we believe we will know enough that we could then send this thing, crewed, on a 1,000-day mission to the Mars system and back,” Greg Williams, an administrator in NASA’s human exploration division, said at the Humans to Mars 2017 conference in Washington D.C.
Williams noted the station will be carried into cislunar space by NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
“We’re trying to lead this journey to Mars with a broad range of partnerships,” Williams said. “One of the things we’ll be doing over the next few years is, putting that package together: what players want to provide what — both nationally and internationally — and how we can together, with NASA in an orchestrating role, really move out on these crewed missions to Mars.”
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, outlined his plan to send humans to orbit Mars by 2020 at the same conference. Aldrin thinks that with adequate political support, he could send astronauts to orbit Mars, but doing so would require NASA to use a rocket built by a private company instead of developing its own.
The Trump administration wants to send a manned mission to the moon in 2019, and then a manned mission to Mars in 2033.
The president vowed to “unlock the mysteries of space” in his inaugural address, fueling speculation he discussed sending humans to Mars in a private meeting with billionaire Elon Musk who heads the company SpaceX.
Landing on Mars would be a massive achievement, but experts say a lot of technical problems must be overcome before we can get there.
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