October 22, 2012
Credit: Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Frank Morring, Jr. Huntsville, Ala.
In an election year, with a “fiscal cliff” looming that could whack NASA's budget by $1.7 billion, U.S. space officials are not eager to declare a new destination in space for human crews just yet.
But once the post-election dust clears, and Congress decides how to handle the funding-sequestration box it created in lieu of making difficult deficit-reduction choices publicly, work underway here and in other space communities around the nation is likely to give some focus to NASA's next steps into the Solar System.
Engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center are using a medium-fidelity mockup cobbled together from scrap space hardware to run human-factors tests and equipment fit checks on one of the missing pieces in NASA's human-exploration planning—somewhere for deep-space crews to live. They are working with experts at Johnson Space Center in Houston, under the leadership of astronaut Alvin Drew.
At the Fifth Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium here Oct. 15-18, industry and NASA field-center engineers outlined other projects that are beginning to flesh out a notional architecture that would use cislunar space to practice for travel deeper into the Solar System.
“We're looking at volume studies—are the crew quarters going to be the right size, the waste and hygiene compartment, the wardroom, the exercise area—we're looking at all those for this extended stay,” says Paul Bookout, who manages the Marshall portion of the Habitat Systems Project.
Using engineering articles from the International Space Station, museum mockups and a 5-ft. aluminum-lithium cylinder left over from Marshall's shell-buckling knockdown factor recalculations (AW&ST Jan. 3, 2011, p. 53) Bookout and his colleagues have built a notional ISS-derived deep- space habitat in the building where the Apollo Moon buggy was developed. Inside the full-size mockup experts can move walls and structural elements around to figure out the best internal configuration for a habitat that would support a crew of four from an Orion multipurpose crew vehicle for as long as 500 days (see illustration).