Congress is pushing NASA to hurry up and build a space habitat by 2018 for $55 million.
As we reported recently, NASA got a huge funding boost from Congress for 2016, and part of the funding bump was $55 million for a program to build a deep-space habitat for future Mars missions — and Congress wants a prototype by 2018.
But tremendous obstacles remain to a potential manned mission to the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s, which explains why Congress is in such a rush for NASA to develop such a “habitation module.”
The habitat would be put in orbit between the Earth and the moon and would allow the Orion capsule to link up with it in space, expanding the amount of room astronauts would have as they make the six-month journey to Mars.
That huge trip length is the first major obstacle for a journey to Mars. There are a variety of problems with a long journey, including the need for more supplies, the greater risk of collision with a space object, the loss of muscle mass in astronauts, and more exposure to higher doses of radiation, according to a USA Today report.
That radiation is the source of the second major concern abotu such a trip: cancer. Being exposed to tremendous amounts of cosmic rays can greatly increase the risk of cancer in astronauts, or even cause genetic defects in future offspring. Good shielding will be necessary to protect astronauts.
A third concern: sex. Surprisingly, it’s a major concern for experts, who say that it would be unwise to ignore the consequences of human sexuality when talking about extended-duration missions. If not dealt with, it could have both psychological and physiological consequences, and endanger the mission itself.
Then there is the lack of gravity while in transit, as well as lower graviational forces on Mars itself. Staying in a low- or no-gravity environment for such a long time could cause severe weakening for astronauts. It could result in tremendous losses in boen and muscle mass, as well as the cardiovascular and immune systems. That’s why NASA will make sure astronauts have ample access to gymnasiums and pharmaceuticals.
Finally, there is the concern about how to provide adequate provisions. Every little bit extra added for supplies takes up critical space and costs many millions of dollars. One solution to this is to figure out a way to live off the Martian land itself. Also, astronauts could potentially find a way to turn carbon dioxide in the Mars atmosphere into liquid methane for rocket propellant rather than carry it with them.