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posted by CoolHand on Monday April 17 2017, @04:17PM   Printer-friendly
from the future-vision dept.

It looks like NASA's stepping-stone to Mars will be a miniature space station in lunar orbit rather than a chunk of captured asteroid.

The agency plans to build an astronaut-tended "deep space gateway" in orbit around the moon during the first few missions of the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion crew capsule, which are scheduled to fly together for the first time in late 2018, NASA officials said.

"I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C, said in a statement. [Red Planet or Bust: 5 Crewed Mars Mission Ideas]

"The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system," Gerstenmaier added.

One of those "other destinations" is Mars. NASA is working to get astronauts to the vicinity of the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s, as directed by former President Barack Obama in 2010. For the last few years, the agency's envisioned "Journey to Mars" campaign has included the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), an effort to pluck a boulder from a near-Earth asteroid and drag the rock to lunar orbit, where it could be visited by astronauts aboard Orion.

But ARM's future looks bleak; President Donald Trump provided no money for the mission in his proposed 2018 federal budget, which the White House released earlier this month.

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Monday April 17 2017, @09:17PM

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Monday April 17 2017, @09:17PM (#495506) Journal []

    Using a powerful boost from NASA's new heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, the Clipper would fly directly to Jupiter and arrive in 2025. Without SLS, the journey would take five years longer, and require flybys of Venus and Earth to reach the right trajectory.

    Flying past Venus means flying closer to the Sun. Flying closer to the Sun means extra heat shielding. And extra heat shielding means a heavier spacecraft. Though Congress has ordered NASA to use SLS for both the Clipper and lander missions, the agency is still keeping the extra heat shielding in the Clipper's design for now—just in case anything derails development of the yet-to-be-flown rocket. []

    In November Ars revealed exclusive details about a daring mission to land on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and now it has become the law of the land. The Congressional budget deal to fund NASA for the fiscal year 2016 includes $1.63 billion for planetary science, of which $175 million is designated for the “Jupiter Europa clipper mission.” It has a target launch date of 2022.

    But the new budget legislation does not stop there. It further stipulates, “This mission shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments and that funds shall be used to finalize the mission design concept.” In other words, it's against the law to fly the mission to Europa without a lander.

    Starting to see the problem yet? And this is just Europa.

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