NASA has underscored its commitment to a manned mission to Mars and a related reliance on private-sector partnerships.
In the NASA report on Mars, released Oct. 8, NASA administrator Charles Bolden stressed that steady progress has been made in its Mars quest.
“NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history,” Bolden said. “I look forward to continuing to discuss the details of our plan with members of Congress, as well as our commercial and our international and partners.”
Space enthusiasts tend to bemoan a perceived slow pace by NASA in gearing up for an eventual manned flight to the Red Planet. But the agency suggested it’s really just a matter of learning its deep-space chops from other, seemingly less ambitious missions.
“NASA’s strategy connects near-term activities and capability development to the journey to Mars and a future with a sustainable human presence in deep space,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.
A key platform for its development activities is the multinational International Space Station. NASA said its ISS activities have forged key advances in life-support systems, 3-D parts printing and resource utilization.
SpaceX’s upcoming activities in support of the Bigelow Activity Expansion Module represent a giant step toward facilitating manned missions beyond Earth orbit, the agency said.
BEAM — an inflatable habitat that SpaceX will launch for docking at the space station — had been set to blast off back in September, until the disintegration of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in a June 28 launch explosion forced a temporary halt to SpaceX launches. The module now is set to be included in SpaceX’s next unmanned cargo mission, which has yet to be scheduled.
BEAM is designed to launch in a tight configuration and expand once it gets into space. That’s considered a big advance over more traditional metal space habitats.
NASA also stipulated its abiding enthusiasm for the Space Launch System, a heavy launch vehicle whose contractors include Aerojet Rocketdyne and other private space companies. The SLS is designed to work in conjunction with the Lockheed Martin-developed Orion spacecraft.
“We are developing core transportation capabilities for the journey to Mars and ensuring continued access for our commercial crew and cargo partners to maintain operations and stimulate new economic activity in low-Earth orbit,” NASA said. “This secured U.S. commercial access to low-Earth orbit allows NASA to continue leveraging the station as a microgravity test bed, while preparing for missions in the proving ground of deep space and beyond.”