Living Off the Land in Space: Green Roads to the Cosmos

Spectacular photos from space
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Before RAD, physicists had to rely on computer models to predict the radiation environment.

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It needs to be managed. Real-world data will also inform the construction of a radiation-proof habitat on Mars. It would be cost-prohibitive to actually transport building materials to Mars, so a better tack would be to transport the tools instead. The New York City-based architecture firm that won the first phase of the contest submitted a design of a house made of ice. If you think getting off the ground and travelling across the solar system is a huge challenge, the last stage — the descent — may be the trickiest. The rover, with its heat shield and sky crane, was too heavy for airbags, so its fall was slowed by a combination of parachutes and retrorockets.

Fortunately, it succeeded where others had not. Most notably, in November the Mars Climate Orbiter incinerated in the Martian atmosphere because engineers had failed to convert between imperial and metric units. A spacecraft carrying people will be much heavier than Curiosity, though, and with more valuable cargo.

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Engineers have proposed a variety of solutions to slow the descent, from heat shields and retro boosters to sky cranes. NASA plans a series of missions that will precede and inform the first trip to Mars. In late or early , Orion will go on a test flight, during which it will orbit the Moon for a few days and release some small Cubesats before returning to Earth.

Beyond the physics and technical challenges lies yet another hurdle: the human element. How do you choose who should go to Mars?

The mission requires a lot of time living cheek-by-jowl with a handful of other people. Stuster, who in wrote a book about the psychology of astronauts called Bold Endeavors , has worked with NASA on refining the selection process. Bold ambitions — these inflatable habitats for astronauts are being developed by the US firm Bigelow Aerospace. The quest to send humans to Mars might seem like a dream, but that vision is slowly turning from science fiction to science fact.

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Indeed, several companies are getting in on the act, working with space agencies to design devices to make deep-space exploration feasible for humans. One firm is StemRad , which makes wearable shields to protect workers from gamma radiation released in accidents at nuclear-power plants here on Earth. Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, it has joined forces with US defence and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to adapt its wearable technology for space. To check out its technology, the company will fit the AstroRad vest to a human mannequin on Orion, which is set to blast off in December on a test trip to beyond the Moon and back.

Eventually Orion will transport real people, though the only other passenger on the test flight will be another mannequin, travelling without an AstroRad vest, to act as a control for the experiment. The biggest test for the vest will come as Orion flies through the Van Allen belts, which surround the Earth and are rich with energetic particles.

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It has built many components for the European Space Module ESM , which will provide the propulsion system for Orion and, in future missions, water, electricity and other necessities to Orion astronauts. The firm has been contracted to design and build a layered shield, reinforced with Kevlar, that will protect parts of the ESM from harm due to space debris and micrometeorites.

It announced in February that it had welded together the first two pieces of the Orion capsule to be used on the successor mission to EM Known as Exploration Mission 2 , it will carry real humans into deep space, with a test mission slated for launch in Using nuclear power instead of chemical fuels could cut the mass of the propulsion system and potentially shorten the travel time. NASA enlists many of its commercial allies through its NextStep program me, which seeks to create public-private partnerships to accelerate the pace of development.

Through this project, the Sierra Nevada Corporation is currently designing components of a human habitat that could be used for long missions. It is also working on a spacecraft called Dream Chaser to carry cargo to the International Space Station.

Another area of commercial interest lies in developing space-based habitats that could both sustain life and protect it from radiation. Several firms are involved here, including Bigelow Aerospace , based in Las Vegas, which has designed human habitats that can be inflated in space. Founded by the former physicist Elon Musk , its mission is to get people to Mars in the next decade.

Some may view Musk as a publicity-seeker, but SpaceX has helped to highlight the real, commercial opportunities that Mars offers for businesses. Browse all. Buyer's Guide Jobs Sign in Register.

Type to search. Topics Astronomy and space Atomic and molecular Biophysics and bioengineering Condensed matter Culture, history and society Environment and energy Instrumentation and measurement Materials Mathematics and computation Medical physics Optics and photonics Particle and nuclear Quantum.

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Living Off the Land in Space: Green Roads to the Cosmos

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