Since the shuttle missions ended in 2011, some might think that space exploration was put on the back burner. However, there are many projects underway in hopes of venturing to asteroids and Mars. Some predict that by 2060, astronauts will finally be able to land on the red planet.
The First Phase
In order to extend time in space NASA must design a spacecraft capable of carrying more passengers and having a larger cargo space. The Orion capsule is just such a vehicle. The capsule was created to launch in combination with a rocket booster and an upper stage similar to the Apollo vessels.
Plans for the spacecraft include shuttling astronauts to and from the space station in addition to landing on the moon. In order to cut down on costs, the design must have the ability to make multiple flights. Unlike former spacecraft, the plan involves having the Orion arrive back to Earth on land. Unmanned test flights have reportedly taken place. However, it will not be until the next decade that the capsule will contain astronauts.
In order to land and stay on the red planet for an extended period of time, NASA must design a craft large enough to accommodate a crew of up to six members and the ability to carry enough cargo. Launching the craft, which may be comparable in size to the space station, also requires heavy-duty lift rockets. The craft must also have the ability to arrive at its intended destination and return safely back to Earth.
Before any attempts at colonizing another planet might begin, scientists must determine how to overcome the gravity and radiation factors. For extended visitation to occur, the craft itself must be designed in such a way as to prevent radiation damage. Researchers theorize that facilities would need to be buried beneath the planet’s surface. However, exploring new destinations for extended lengths of time or engaging in construction processes put astronauts at a greater risk of radiation exposure.
The loss of gravity is another issue. The interiors of the craft and facility environments must come as close as possible to the gravity conditions found on Earth. Researchers continue pondering how to make artificial gravity conditions possible.
NASA alone does not have the monetary resources to make future plans possible. However, they are in the process of working with private companies and organizations to offset the costs.