The Future of NASA

Christina Mitchell, Business Manager • cbmitchell16@ehc.edu

We all know the long and impressive history of NASA. They’ve had a hand in many things from climate change awareness, to the invention of kevlar, to putting a man on the moon and cooperating with other nations to build the International Space Station. With NASA’s 50th anniversary coming up next year they have invited people to start dreaming of the future. I had the wonderful opportunity to see some of what the future may hold last month at the NASA Langley Research Center.

The main thing that NASA has chosen to showcase for the next century will be the steps taken to reach and colonize Mars. The International Space Station was the first step in this journey but it’s lifespan is nearly over and NASA is dreaming bigger. They are working to create a large ship that can travel through space. This isn’t just any space ship like you would see in Star Trek or Star Wars though. This ship would be inflatable. It sounds absolutely ridiculous until you understand the science behind it.

This ship would need to be launched in a rocket in order to get out of Earth’s orbit. Rather than doing many launches and building the ship over a time period that would take years NASA scientists have created an inflatable design, a design I actually got to walk through. The outer shell is woven out of a material that is strong enough to deflect asteroids and protect the crew inside from radiation. There are several other interior layers to insulate the crew and further protect the
ship.

There will be multiple sections like this that can inflate that will be joined by solid sections. The construction will be complete before launching out of Earth’s orbit. Since this ship will have to be large enough to grow food and house six crew at a time NASA knows it will have to be big, it is planned to be the size of four football fields. The inside will be truly incredible, the digital rendering presented at Langley was amazing.

The ship is only part of this journey, NASA is also planning what it will do for habitats and transportation once people reach Mars. The ship will house a shuttle which will allow the crew to safely land on Mars while the ship remains in orbit. Once the crew has reached Mars there will be enough supplies in the shuttle to build and stock a habitat. Since weight would be an issue for landing NASA has developed a similar material for the habitat as
that used for the ship itself. The habitat will not be inflatable per se, but it will have a very light and tough makeup in a material that will be easy to construct. Digital renderings of what this habitat may look like look remarkably similar to those seen in The Martian movie. The transportation that NASA is working on designing for early Mars missions also looks like the rovers from The Martian. Good job on paying attention to science, hollywood.

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