Posted: 4 January 2016, 10:45 p.m. EST
Panelists: Moderator Michael Moloney, director for Space and Aeronautics, Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Matthew Simon, Habitation and Crew Systems design lead, Human Spaceflight Architecture Team, NASA’s Langley Research Center; Robert Ferl, co-chairman, Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and director and professor, Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, University of Florida; Alex Macdonald, program executive for Emerging Space, Office of the Chief Technologist, NASA Headquarters; Dominic “Tony” A. Antonelli, chief technologist, Exploration Systems, Space Systems, Lockheed Martin Corp.
by Hannah Thoreson, AIAA Communications
Should the U.S. consider building a habitat on the moon before exploring Mars? Some scientists and engineers believe that the moon could be a proving ground for Mars colonization technology. Panelists explored this concept at the 2016 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition in San Diego Jan. 4, 2016.
For starters, they said, the International Space Station is not truly removed from assistance from Earth. Medical care is within reach via an emergency return trip from the ISS, and food arrives during resupply missions. This type of support would not be available in an environment as far removed as Mars or the moon, and we haven’t studied what it would be like to maintain life long-term without that support, panelists said.
“We have so far been limited to the shallows of our home coasts on the cosmic ocean,” said Alex Macdonald, program executive for Emerging Space with the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters.
The advances needed to get to a cislunar habitat may seem incremental, but those changes could open new and greater capabilities, he said.
“Our experience beyond low-earth orbit is constrained to the Apollo 17 mission,” Macdonald said, noting that amounts to less than 13 days in an environment where Earth is more than a short trip away.
It may not be realistic to set up a colony on Mars with so little experience away from Earth, and the moon could be a good intermediate step toward that goal, panelists said.
Macdonald cited the need for an 80 percent improvement in the ability to recover oxygen before further steps toward deep space exploration can be taken. There also are some mission-critical components that have a lifespan of only six months.
All of the panelists agreed that there are many steps that need to be taken before humanity explores Mars.
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