Congress has earmarked $55 million in funding for a special NASA mission to Mars.
Lost in the shuffle of a $1.3 billion increase in budget for NASA from Congress in 2016 is a $55 million program to create a deep-space habitat to help future Mars missions become a reality.
NASA has until 2018 to develop a prototype of a “habitation module,” Congress stipulated in its new budget, and NASA must provide a report within 180 days, according to a Popular Science report.
This could be one of the first essential missions in the lead-up to launched a manned mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s.
NASA would focus on constructing a habitat that would begin testing between the Earth and the moon for a workable habitat sometime in the 2020s. Contractors like Boeing and Orbital ATK are already hard at work on the project, but this new funding could dramatically speed up work.
But could scientists actually produce something by 2018? Not everyone is sure, and NASA is only just getting started on the project to determine what it would like and what technology it would feature. It has big problems to solve, like shielding astronauts from radiation in space, and being light weight at the same time.
The module would essentially attach to the Orion spacecraft so astronauts will have more space for the six-month journey. They hope to have private quarters and exercise equipment for astronauts, so they need something that the Orion capsule could link up with once it reaches space.
There are some early prototypes that could prove to be leading candidates. Bigelow Aerospace has produced an inflatable habitat that will soon by used on the International Space Station, but many other big names in aerospace like Boeing, Lockheed, and Orbital will certainly make their best efforts.