NASA to Test Lunar Habitat

NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are about to test an inflatable habitat in Antarctica starting January 2008. Its new architecture is supposedly strong enough to withstand the conditions on the moon; to test that, Antarctica’s frigid, harsh, isolated landscape was chosen to simulate the lunar environment and test the prototype’s capabilities.

In a joint project of NASA and the NSF, a new inflatable habitat is about to be tested  starting next January in the southernmost continent. As the conditions on the moon are extremely harsh, it is crucial for the simulation to be as similar as possible to actual lunar conditions. The structure itself looks something like a backyard moon bounce for children, but is far more sophisticated. It is insulated and heated, has electrical power, and is pressurized. It offers 384 square feet of living space and has, at its highest point, an eight-foot ceiling. Sensors are spread inside the structure to allow engineers to monitor the habitat’s performance.

Paul Lockhart, Director of Constellation Systems for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, said that the current tests may give scientists the opportunity to see what it would be like to use the new structure for lunar exploration. As NASA’s Constellation Program is working to send humans back to the moon by 2020, they’ll need a place to live. The agency is developing concepts for habitation modules that not only provide protection for the astronauts, but are easy to get to the Moon’s surface.

NSF’s interest is different, focusing on lighter, easier-to-assemble habitats for field use in Antarctica.  The NSF currently uses a 50-year-old design known as a Jamesway Hut, but since it is bulky and complex (in comparison to the current NASA habitat being tested), NSF intends to study improvements in packing, transportation and set up, as well as in power consumption and damage tolerance.

The inflatable habitat is only one of the projects currently under development by the Constellation Program, NASA’s program to create a new generation of spacecrafts for manned spaceflight. Many other developments have been made in the framework of the program, asides from the Lunar Surface Module. These include the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Orion crew capsule and the Earth Departure Stage.

TFOT has also covered the Armadillo Aerospace Lunar Vehicle, which was recently demonstrated at the Wirefly X Prize Cup held at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, as well as NASA’s inflatable prototype Moon base.

For more information on the NASA Habitat see the press release on the Agency’s website. Information on other Constellation Program projects can be found here.

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