There’s more to deep-space missions than merely launching astronauts into outer space and saying “good luck!” The eventual goal necessitates a long-term plan for deep-space habitation; a place where these astronauts will live for long periods as they travel through the depths of outer space.
On Thursday, American aerospace company Lockheed Martin unveiled one its first tangible habitation concepts at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The concept, which could one day be used by deep-space astronauts, utilizes a refurbished cargo module left over from NASA’s prominent Space Shuttle era.
The module in question is the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, which NASA previously used during cargo resupply missions involving the International Space Station. The habitation concept effectively repurposes this module, converting it into living quarters for up to four deep-space astronauts.
"You think of it as an RV in deep space," said Lockheed Martin’s Bill Pratt, the concept program manager. "When you're in an RV, your table becomes your bed, and things are always moving around, so you have to be really efficient with the space. That's a lot of what we are testing here."
Lockheed Martin’s choice to use the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module for the backbone of its conceptual deep-space habitation project allegedly stems from the company’s desire to re-purpose existing resources before developing new ones. This way of thinking both reduces cost and conserves raw materials and time for future projects.
"We want to get to the moon and to Mars as quickly as possible, and we feel like we [already] have a lot of stuff that we can use to do that," Pratt added.
Lockheed Martin is just one of six different companies that are actively developing deep-space habitation concepts. Assuming NASA selects Lockheed Martin’s plan, then the company would be tasked with adapting the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to work with a space-based docking station known as the Deep Space Gateway.
With interest in deep-space missions growing at the exponential rate that it is today, it should only be a matter of time before concepts like this one go on to help astronauts explore Mars and more distant parts of the solar system. But for now, there’s still more work to do.