Space Stations

Using ISS As A Mars Transit Analog

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
November 6, 2019
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Using ISS As A Mars Transit Analog

Human research on the International Space Station (ISS) crew has made significant advances in understanding of the effects of physiology on human health in space missions. However, ISS has not been as suitable for research on other hazards of human spaceflight such as isolation and communications delay.
NASA recently completed a special assessment of whether modifications could be made to operations or facilities so that ISS could be used more effectively as an analog to simulate long-duration crew missions beyond low earth orbit. A cross-disciplinary team met to identify concept of operations, trade spaces, challenges, and opportunities to making ISS more operationally relevant as a Mars transit mission analog, and the results and implementation plans are summarized in this manuscript.

In addition to the use case of 12-month missions (already in planning by the NASA ISS Program to bound expected Mars transit durations), three new use cases where ISS could provide valuable high-fidelity experience were identified.

(1) Testing of operations procedures and medical care could be enhanced by demonstrating crew handling a simulated medical event in microgravity, autonomously, and with significant communications delay.

(2) Isolation and confinement effects of deep space transit could be studied on ISS to validate current habitable volume requirements for Mars transit as well as provide context for evaluating the results of the extensive ground-based simulations in HERA and NEK. A trade study of possible operational and hardware changes that would make ISS applicable to these use cases was completed.

(3) Surface operations after the physiological deconditioning of a long transit could be conducted to validate crew ability to perform critical ground tasks after 6-month Mars transit and aid in conceptual design of Mars surface element architectures.

Each of the case studies includes a trade space between operational impacts on nominal ISS activities and degree of fidelity. A phased approach to implementation means that several “quick start” activities can be done in 2019-2020 at the same time as planning continues for more complex exploration analog options beginning as early as 2022. The team determined that many of these quick-start tasks could be done with available assets, entirely independent of other exploration system development timelines (such as Orion, Space Launch System).

The consideration of the full suite of human spaceflight capabilities in the lunar vicinity can also be included as each step in human exploration serves as a simulation opportunity for some aspect of subsequent missions. Further discussions of options with the international community are critical for considering the benefits as well as impacts of simulation activities on ISS, as well as to better formulate future mission architectures.

Innovative Approaches to using the International Space Station as a Mars Transit Analog , NASA

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.