Getting to Mars has been an longtime dream of mankind, and every day, we get closer to achieving it.
But we need a little more experience before we do.
Why? Well, we're pretty good at running quick trips back and forth between the International Space Station. We've also run six manned missions to the moon--but only for a few days at a time. If we're going to run missions to Mars lasting 18+ months on the Orion spacecraft (prototype pictured below), we're gonna need a little more practice.
So, how do we do that? NASA has called on six companies to create a concept for a Deep Space Gateway, a module that will orbit the moon and serve as both a training ground and, as its name suggests, a gateway to places farther in space. Lockheed Martin is one company that has accepted the challenge.
In fact, Lockheed has said that it will begin work on a full-scale prototype for its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This life-size prototype will allow the company to refine its design and ensure the module is functional for the astronauts who will live there. The prototype will be made from a renovated cargo container known as Donatello, which used to carry supplies to the ISS.
(Concept art for Lockheed's Deep Space Gateway. Credit: newatlas.com)
Refurbishing this old cargo container will be no small task: in fact, the reno is estimated to take up to 18 months to complete. After all, the DSG will need everything to keep the astronauts aboard it safe and healthy: life support, shielding from radiation, private living spaces, and exercise equipment. But Lockheed is doing everything it can to expedite the process, including making use of AR and VR tech.
Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin's NextSTEP program manager, explains. “For example, we are exploring how we can use AR to integrate exercise equipment for the astronauts—before allocating physical space for it in the habitat. We are also looking at modeling docking ports for other elements of the Deep Space Gateway, rather than cutting holes in the actual Donatello cargo container."
After Lockheed finishes its work on the project, it will allow NASA to run all the necessary analyses on the module. But it won't stop there--the company is also building an avionics lab to streamline Orion's integration with the Deep Space Gateway. When it is docked at the DSG, Orion will serve as the module's command deck. When the astronauts are out to Mars, the module will be able to take care of itself using automation and robotics.
Whatever the final design may be, the Deep Space Gateway should begin orbiting the moon sometime in the 2020s in preparation for a planned mission to Mars in the 2030s. Who knows? Maybe we'll have DSGs orbiting other planets in the future--to serve as a launching pad for journeys deeper into the unknown?
Comment below: Do you think we'll reach Mars by the 2030s? Do you see the Deep Space Gateway being used more extensively in the future?
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy lover & writer who especially likes talking about Star Wars and futuristic tech. I like finding new things & finding the beauty in old things, especially in my "Everyday Snippets" series. I hope you'll join me on my blog and unleash your imagination!