Friday, July 13, 2012
Frankly, getting back to pushing the deep-space envelope is overdue. Manned space exploration needs to move on to high-Earth orbits, lunar missions, and beyond. We gave the whole LEO thing a try for a few decades, and have precious little to show for it.
There are designs on file for missions including flyby missions of Mars and Venus. They have been around since the 1960s! These missions used Apollo hardware, and would have worked just fine if we had continued moving forward. For missions lasting weeks or months, a normal space station would work in deep space as well. For missions exceeding 12 months travel time, some accommodation must be made for artificial gravity, as well as additional space for crew and life-support.
Sadly, no mission will ever fly if things stay the same. NASA achieves far less per dollar than it did at any time, even during the cold war when money was cheap. There are plenty of reasons for this. But the real issue is not NASA, it is a lack of political will to get a mission done, and a lack of purpose. Without a direction, NASA simply has to do the best that they can, and squeeze some science out in the process.
Here is what NASA is working on now:
"One possible next leap in human space exploration for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a mission to a near Earth asteroid (NEA). In order to achieve such an ambitious goal, a space habitat will need to accommodate a crew of four for the 380-day round trip. The Human Spaceflight Architecture Team (HAT) developed a conceptual design for such a habitat."
NASA Technical Report