Nautilus: Not a Bad Way to Mars
NASA Articles 2/24/11
By: Chris Capps
NASA has proposed a new vessel for long term deep space exploration that would exist more like a space station than a simple space capsule like the Orion ship. And with a Mars mission on everyone's mind the real question in the world of 2011 is inevitably, "How much will it cost?" But NASA aims to build a space station that will not only take humans to Mars, but do so in a reasonably cost effective way. And if that claim doesn't have enough weight to it, NASA proposes the ship will have a rotating centrifuge giving astronauts artificial gravity.
We were first brought the idea of a centrifuge system for gravity in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. And as technology advances, the highly computerized vessel making its way to the Martian surface may actually be fairly similar to the one designed for that very film. Although hopefully the newer version will not include a murderous artificial intelligence system onboard. Some fans of Mars expeditions have voiced in the blogosphere that it doesn't matter as long as humans set foot on the red planet.
There have also been many proposed modifications to the plans by people worldwide. The idea of a habitation system that could ferry people to the Moon, Mars, and a number of other places is sure to have its share of fans, and proposals for changes. But Ray Villard of Discovery News has some very interesting ones including laser based communications systems, an electricity based propulsion system (powered possibly even by nuclear power generators), and others.
The Nautilus will be constructed onboard the ISS according to NASA and the pieces would require three heavy lift launches to move it into place. But once in orbit the craft could move around Earth's orbit, drop in on an asteroid moving slowly enough to catch, deploy bases and material to the Moon and even make that coveted journey between the planets all the way to Mars. And with the centrifuge style gravity system in place onboard the vessel, this would be no doubt one of the most promising methods of getting explorers out that far. Previously scientists at NASA were worried that Martian explorers would be virtually immobile after being left in the weightlessness of space for so long. Their atrophied muscles would be unable to grapple with even Mars' low gravity and would instead have to figure out methods of deterring this muscle loss in a weightless environment.
So does this mean we may be able to actually make it to Mars this time? With NASA facing serious budget cuts, hopes are turning to apprehension. The project is expected to cost some $20 billion to build.