October 27, 2012

International Space Station – A Stepping Stone For Future Mars Missions

While Curiosity remains to be in the limelight of space related news, the next step for Martian exploration will have to be sending man to Mars, and NASA says the International Space Station has already acted as a stepping stone for that.

A mission to the Red Planet would see that astronauts spend a long amount of time in zero gravity, as well as in isolation away from the rest of the world.  This alone takes some research, but the good news is that the long duration missions aboard the space station have already been going on.

“The space station is so valuable in this effort because it provides so much of what encompasses a long-duration transit mission, but with the convenience and lower risk of being located in low Earth orbit,” George Nelson, manager of International Space Station Technology Demonstration with NASA, said in a statement.

Communicating from Earth to the astronauts on a long mission would be a concern, and the station helps out in that it already has a bit of a delay.  However, when on a trip to Mars, traveling 300 million miles away from home, communications could have up to a 20-minute delay.

The crew on the station already practices countermeasures for delays by operating certain activities with self-enforced lapses in communications.

During the summer of 2012, NASA said astronauts successfully performed preventative maintenance on the COLBERT on-orbit treadmill, while purposely not speaking with flight controllers.

“The operations community has recently worked to revise many space station crew procedures to eliminate the need for communication with the ground,” Nelson said in the release. “We are currently testing some of these revised procedures on station to verify that they can be performed effectively. In addition, we are attempting new procedure formats, uplinked videos for instance, that may be even more effective.”

Researchers area also having to constantly imagine possibilities that could occur while astronauts were on the vast journey towards Mars.

They are looking into better ways to provide a crew with clean, sustainable air and water, and the orbiting laboratory has helped with that as well.

NASA said the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) onboard the station is helping to advance scientific understanding and design elements to improve future closed-loop life support systems.

The Amine Swingbed is another new life support technology that is currently undergoing experimenting on the space station.  This equipment is designed to remove carbon dioxide from the living space inside the modules of the orbiting laboratory.

Once a human takes in oxygen, they are able to breath out carbon dioxide, which needs to be scrubbed from the air to ensure continued crew health.

“Testing of various life support systems is an ideal use of the space station,” said Nelson. “Reliability of these systems on long distance/duration missions is paramount. We can verify design reliability in the microgravity environment by using them on station without any mission or crew risk, since the existing systems are always available.”

While scientists on Earth strive to understand what a long-duration mission might need, the astronauts above are already putting their ideas to test, years before a mission will ever set sail.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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