With the help of international and commercial partners, NASA is sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first time in over fifty years. In addition to sending crewed missions to the lunar surface, the long-term objective of the Artemis Program is to create the necessary infrastructure for a program of “sustained lunar exploration and development.” But unlike the Apollo missions that sent astronauts to the equatorial region of the Moon, the Artemis Program will send astronauts to the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin, culminating in the creation of a habitat (the Artemis Basecamp).
This region contains many permanently-shadowed craters and experiences a night cycle that lasts fourteen days (a “Lunar Night“). Since solar energy will be limited in these conditions, the Artemis astronauts, spacecraft, rovers, and other surface elements will require additional power sources that can operate in cratered regions and during the long lunar nights. Looking for potential solutions, the Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI) and the NASA Glenn Research Center recently hosted two space nuclear technologies workshops designed to foster solutions for long-duration missions away from Earth.
In the coming decade, NASA and the China National Space Agency (CNSA) will send the first astronaut crews to Mars. Unlike missions to the International Space Station (ISS) or the Moon, crewed missions to Mars present several unique challenges because of the distance and transit times involved. For instance, it is only practical to send missions to Mars when our two planets are closest to each other in their orbits (known as “Opposition“), which occurs every 26 months. Even then, it can take up to nine months for spacecraft to reach Mars, creating all kinds of logistics headaches.
On top of that, there’s the need for life support systems that will maintain a breathable atmosphere inside the spacecraft. Like the system that allows astronauts to live aboard the ISS for extended periods, methods are needed to scrub waste carbon from the air and safely sequester it. HeroX, the world’s leading platform for crowdsourced solutions, has launched the NASA Particle Partition Challenge. With a total prize purse of $45,000, this competition is looking for innovative ideas on how to ensure that astronauts can breathe comfortably on the way to Mars!