Earlier this month, NASA welcomed an expected windfall when Congress announced an increase of $1.3 billion for the space agency’s budget after several years of penny pinching. Further, it now emerges that a chunk of the additional funds is earmarked to support NASA’s plan for its Mars Mission. Congress has also directed NASA to utilize $55 million from the total of $19.3 billion budget to start building a deep space habitat to house astronauts during the upcoming exploratory missions to Mars.
NASA has been given till 2018 to develop a viable prototype model for the ‘habitation module’ and the agency has also been asked to produce a report covering the status of the program in the coming 180 days.
According to NASA, it is hoping to launch a crewed mission to the red planet by 2030s and start the cislunar (Between the moon and the Earth) testing of a viable habitat by 2020s. The agency is already working with companies such as Boeing, Bigelow Aerospace, and Orbital ATK to study the habitat designs. With the new funding and the accompanying Congressional directive, NASA may be forced to speed up these projects.
The habitation module being planned by NASA could also shape deep space travel for several decades to come. But, for now, not much is known about the proposed habitat including how it is planned to be built and the requirements.
Director of International Space Station, Sam Scimemi said that it was pretty early to disclose the details. He added that “As soon as I put a picture up there, somebody is going to assume what the configuration is.”
The funds are expected to come from the Advanced Exploration System program which is a part of the exploration research and development line item of the budget which received $350 million from the omnibus bill.
In what is a small but significant step in sending astronauts to Mars, engineers at NASA have already put together the initial two segments of Orion crew module that would fly on top of the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket on a mission beyond Moon’s far side.
SLS is also regarded as the world’s most experienced large rocket engines with over a million seconds in flight operations and ground testing.