NASA is set to beef up its programs in the International Space Station ahead of the mission to Mars in the 2030s. Since the first arrival of astronauts on the station in November 2000, the agency has used the station as a training ground for future missions but is now intending to view it purely as a Mars transit test site in preparation for crewed missions to Mars.
The chief scientist at NASA’s International Space Station program, Julie Robinson, said that the team is ready to test a lot more, considering the data collected over the past 20 years. A team led by Robinson has already identified a set of changes that could help plan for the agency’s planned mission to the Red planet. Among the defined tasks are sending astronauts to space for a year as opposed to the current six months. With the current technology, the mission is estimated to take around three years. Hence, NASA wants to have more information about how the long-distance flight affects the astronauts physically and psychologically. The data will not be entirely accurate since the station experiences less radiation than a spacecraft to Mars would.
NASA has up until now only had one yearlong mission undertaken by Scott Kelly who lived in the lab from March 2015 to March 2016. He was in the company of Russian Mikhail Korniyenko who stayed in space for 342 days. Peggy Whitson also came close, spending 289 days continuously n space between 2016 and 2017, while Christina Koch, whose stay began in March 2019, is expected to travel back to earth in February 2020. According to Robinson, however, the data from the three is not enough, and the agency plans to raise the number to 10, a program which has already been approved by the ISS. He added that the program would launch once private astronaut transport provided by Boeing and SpaceX will be ready.
NASA also plans to investigate the capabilities of astronauts after the long spaceflight. The investigation aims to find out what the astronauts can and cannot be able to do after landing on Mars, such as whether they will have sufficient motor skills to do small tasks if need be. This test also hinges on the availability of the Starliner, another private space shuttle. The agency also plans to test the astronauts’ responses to a medical emergency and the communication delay due to the distance. The medical simulation is most likely to be done next spring, while the ISS is planning a two-week communication delay investigation, according to Robinson.
This post was originally published on Financial Sector