It looks like humankind is getting ready to start its long-delayed expansion in our Solar system. There are ongoing plans for establishing some kind of Moon-based station, for flights in cislunar space and finally, for a manned mission to Mars. There are also efforts to extend the life of the ISS, not to mention the proposed construction of a Chinese space station in the next few years.
Add to the menu a batch of probes, the renewed efforts of private funded space missions and the projects for capture and move an asteroid for mining purposes and we could say that the future looks bright for space enthusiasts. There are a number of technological hurdles on the way, the required budgets will be hard to acquire as always, but we can do it.
You see, there is just a little thing to be considered. The Human factor. Space is a hostile environment for our physiology and low gravity celestial bodies like the Moon or Mars are just a bit less problematic for us. More than fifty years of experimental data show that even after a few days in a microgravity environment there are effects on the astronaut’s bodies. A manned mission to Mars will last no less than ten months, a shift on a Moon base should last no less than six months.
The road to the expansion in the Solar system is still there, we just need to add some more items in the “to do” list. If we want to run a Moon-based operation or a Mars-based operation, then we need habitats orbiting the Moon or Mars. I’m talking about big-sized structures, with the choice to get a good approximation to Earth gravity thru rotation. From such a station we can control any kind of drone of the surface of Moon or Mars, getting the job done and laying the foundations of our future.
So far, our space stations were all based on the same model. Two or more modules, progressive assembly in LEO and a lot of add-ons like instruments and solar panels. We need to start from scratch and think big. We need to recover the vision of early pioneers like O’Neill and build habitats big enough to hold hundreds of astronauts. It will be difficult, it will be costly, it will be also dangerous. But if we really want to be out there, if we want to rise from our collective cradle, then we must take this step.