Innovators

The Deep Space Gateway Could Be An Orbiting Stepping Stone To Mars

You could be forgiven for feeling like space exploration is growing a bit stagnant. After all, NASA's space shuttle program was retired in 2011, and there haven't been a whole lot of manned flights in recent years that weren't trips to the International Space Station. But a new partnership between NASA and private organizations could open the door to a whole new phase of space exploration, starting with an orbiting waypoint called the Deep Space Gateway.

Related: The U.N.'s First Space Mission Launches In 2021

[[Boeing Deep Space Gateway]]

An Orbiting Oasis

The Deep Space Gateway is being designed by Boeing as the first ever manned outpost in deep space. Make that cislunar space—that's the zone between the outer limits of geostationary orbit and the moon. While it might not seem that deep to be aiming for our nearest celestial neighbor, it's kind of a big deal—the ISS orbits 249 miles above our planet, while the moon is almost 1,000 times farther. It's an incredible distance for a manned, permanent station, and it will rely on technology that Boeing already uses for its near(er)-Earth satellites.

Read More: Float Through The International Space Station In Ultra-HD

So what could the Deep Space Gateway do that the ISS can't? It could initially act as a sort of training ground for life in a deep space environment, but one where a return trip would take only days instead of a few months. But NASA has even greater plans for the station. According to William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters, the gateway may eventually be able to move to various orbits according to the needs of its mission, whether that's close enough to the moon to stage lunar missions, or into high lunar orbit for destinations elsewhere in solar system. That's right—the gateway could be step one to a manned mission to Mars.

Read More: BEAM Is The Bouncy Castle Now Attached To The International Space Station

A representation of Boeing's Deep Space Transit Vehicle

NASA's Next Steps

The Deep Space Gateway is just a part of a NASA program known as Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, serendipitously shortened to NextSTEP. The program works with private groups—Boeing, in the case of the gateway—to enter the next phase of space exploration. Also on the docket? The Orion, a spacecraft capable of carrying up to four astronauts and touching down on asteroids and even Mars. A highly advanced Space Launch System, or SLS, will play a key role in the program as well. The SLS is not only the world's most powerful rocket, it's also flexible enough to adapt for payloads ranging from manned missions to robot expeditions to Mars, Saturn, and even Jupiter. However the next couple of decades unfold for space travel, it's clear that Neil Armstrong's giant leap is due for a follow-up.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. According the NASA, about once every thousand years, an asteroid the size of a football field strikes Earth. 00:31

  2. The moon is a potential source of Helium-3, which is used in MRIs. 01:58

  3. Satellites help us monitor events of Earth, such as forest fires and oil spills. 02:58

Written by Curiosity Staff April 20, 2017