If humans are ever really going to make it to Mars, we're going to need a bigger boat. Today's spaceships are built for short hauls to and from the International Space Station, a mere six or so hours away. These ships, like the Russian Soyuz, SpaceX's Dragon, NASA's upcoming Orion capsule, are small, cramped, and they don't have bathrooms or sleeping quarters.
NASA is forever linked to space, a plucky government agency bravely hurtling people and robots into the great beyond. Yet the agency has always had as much of an earth-bound mission as an outer space one. The “Aeronautics” at NASA may get short shrift, but with 300 videos of archival aviation tests released online this week, there's plenty of airborne excitement waiting for viewers.
On my first day of spacewalk training in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, the future loomed in front of me as bright as the heavens I had hoped to reach. I wanted to master the fundamentals and, like all astronauts, I knew that spacewalk proficiency was the quickest path to that coveted first flight assignment.
Stephen Hawking is making apocalyptic predictions again. The respected theoretical physicist warns that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species within the next century if we don't want to go extinct. Last year, he prophesied that we had maybe 1,000 years left on Earth, and the inspiration for this newly-urgent timeline is unclear—except for the fact that Hawking's new documentary about colonizing Mars is coming out soon.
Today's spacesuits are designed to work well while astronauts float around outside the International Space Station. But they're not quite right for walking around on the moon or Mars—they're too heavy and don't provide enough flexibility in the hips and knees. That's why NASA is investing in a next-generation spacesuit for exploring deep space.