The upcoming space missions to Mars have chained the lion’s share of media headlines in recent years, but a lot of research is needed before visiting the Red Planet. And that’s why NASA’s aerospace agency announced plans to send astronauts to travel around the moon.
The last time mankind landed on the Moon in 1972. However, NASA believes that the prelunar (that is, located between the Earth and the Moon) orbit can be an excellent place to create a launching pad for launching missions to Mars in the 2030s.
Greg Williams, deputy assistant to the head of one of the departments of policy and planning of NASA, speaking this week at the Summit on the flight of man to Mars, said that the agency has a mission to the moon for 2027. To our companion will send a crew of astronauts, who will spend in the Moon’s orbit for a year.
Such a prolonged stay in the lunar orbit is conditioned by the need for at least 5 additional missions. Some of them will be manned, some autonomous. Within the framework of these flights it is planned to deliver all necessary equipment to the orbit of the satellite. The list of this equipment includes both an orbital station for future Martian crews and a Deep Space Transport spacecraft, the development of which is already underway. In the future, NASA wants to use it for flights to Mars.
“If we can conduct an annual manned mission using Deep Space Transport, which will be on a prelunar orbit, we will be able to fully understand the possibility of sending this thing with people on board a thousand-day trip to Mars and back,” says Williams.
Now this near-moon mission does not even have an official name. However, the term “trial cruise” was originally used on the sidelines of NASA. As a rule, it is used in the fleet, when inspecting new ships.
Previously, NASA has already announced that it is going to build the orbital lunar station Deep Space Gateway and use it as a launch pad for launching missions to the outer space, including flights to Mars. To do this, the agency wants to use the most powerful carrier rocket in the world – Space Launch System (SLS) – with which the delivery of necessary equipment will be made. The first launch is planned for next year.
All this equipment, according to Williams, is still being developed, so there are not any more detailed details about how the astronauts will spend 365 days in the Moon’s orbit. Nevertheless, everything that can be learned during this mission, can be very useful when flying to Mars.
It should be noted that scientists still understand the issues of what consequences people can expect with long space flights. Recent studies have shown that even a short flight beyond the Earth’s atmosphere can lead to liver disease in mice. In addition, after the 340-day stay of American astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS, NASA discovered that he had some problems with vision, bone density, muscle, and sleep disorder. In general, there is still a lot of work to be done before a thousand-day trip to Mars can become safe.
It is also worth noting that NASA seeks support from private companies. In the preparation and implementation of a manned flight can help companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.
“We are open for cooperation in matters of travel to Mars. One of the things that we will be doing for the next few years will be to unite all ideas and solutions, “Williams added.
“Now the key goal is to find out how together, under the leadership of NASA, we really will be able to approach these manned missions to Mars,” summed up Williams.