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NASA is planning party on Mars

Invests in ice, expensive balloons, and new paint.

By James Mitchell


NASA has recently shortlisted several projects they wish to pursue in order to attain the eventual goal of getting humans to Mars. These projects vary greatly from increased cryogenics funding to extremely expensive habitats. They are working on making a manned-mission to Mars more comfortable and safer.

Bigelow Aerospace, company funded by NASA, is working on a cheap and lightweight habitat that could be very useful for a space station orbiting a far off planet. The project is called BEAM, and it’s designed to inflate once attached to a space station like  International Space Station. The engineers plan on using the ISS as a test rig for future space station equipment.

Engineer Brian Dunbar who worked on the project is excited about what the design could mean for future space exploration, and shared his plan in a press conference.
“Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a spacecraft, but provide greater volume for living and working in space, once expanded,” said Dunbar. “Learning how an expandable habitat performs in the thermal environment of space and how it reacts to radiation, micrometeoroids, and orbital debris will provide information to address key concerns about living in the harsh environment of space.”

Dunbar and the team are looking forward to the possibilities created by BEAM. They intend to thoroughly test the habitat over the next few years before they start looking into uses for the habitat and even how it could be used for future missions.

“If BEAM performs favorably it could lead to future development of expandable habitation structures for future crews traveling in deep space,” said Dunbar.

Dr. John Bradford is leading the effort to design something  different. It is a habitat that is designed to use cryogenics to preserve astronauts in a deep sleep. It could help to remedy the problems a long trip through deep space and the psychological fallout such a trip could have on astronauts.

“This new and innovative habitat design is capable of cycling the crew through inactive non-cryonic torpor sleep states [or hibernation] for the duration of the inspace mission segments,” said Bradford.

Bradford’s company SpaceWorks is planning on creating the habitat with four key phases. SpaceWorks intends to go through the project slowly and carefully, to avoid any mistakes or failures that have set back previous attempts or cause harm to astronauts.

NASA discovered a cryogenically selective surface called “Solar White” during a recent material study. It is a “coating” that can resist 99.9% of the sun’s energy. The coating or glaze has lots of implications across many fields from solar power plants to modern painting. Robert Youngquist is heading the project for NASA. Before they can start testing further applications for Solar White they have to make sure that it is more than a theory.

“We have shown analytically that a sphere covered with a 10 mm thick coating of Solar White and located at 1 Astronomical Unit from the Sun [it] can achieve a steady state temperature below 50 K,” said Youngquist. “The freezing point of oxygen.”

This doesn’t just allow for more advanced solar resistant space suits and lander padding. It could mean a lot for future space travel.

“The ramifications of such a coating are broad and significant,” said Youngquist. “Ranging from enabling long-term cryogenic storage to allowing passive high temperature superconductor operation in space. However, the development of these coatings is only at a theoretical modeling stage,” said Youngquist.”

There are applications of Solar White that require it to be more that a coating. Often because it is easier to solidly fix a tile to a space shuttle than it is to fix a glaze or a coat of paint.

“Construction of rigid versions of the coatings may be difficult, because they are composed of only one material deposited onto a metallic reflector, though there are precedents such as rigid foam and Space Shuttle Tiles to use as models.”

NASA is taking these technologies and more into the future and maybe even Mars.

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