The International Space Station (ISS) has been in orbit above Earth since 1998, but in 2020, NASA and its Russian counterpart plan to “retire” the station. That’s a euphemism for crashing it into the Pacific Ocean. Given the current political climate in the US, it’s unlikely that NASA will be able to fund a new station like to replace the old one. Rather than giving up on the idea, NASA engineers have come up with a plan to create a new space station on the cheap.
Just forty years ago NASA launched the world’s first space station, such as it was. In fact, “SkyLab” was actually just the modified third stage of a Saturn V rocket that hung in the sky from 1973 to 1974. Syklab housed three separate crews for durations of twenty-eight, fifty-nine, and eighty-four consecutive days.
NASA’s new plan, aptly named SkyLab2, plans to draw on that tradition. This time, rather than building SkyLab2 from a reused Saturn V, the station will be constructed from the upper stage of the new Space Launch System (SLS). Still in development, the SLS is designed to take astronauts to Mars and beyond. For that reason it is significantly larger than the old Saturn V. In fact, the H2 tank that would be repurposed to create SkyLab2 is roughly the size of a two-story house.
NASA engineers believe that a space station this size could easily accommodate a crew of four astronauts for months at a time, meaning that it wouldn’t have to be limited to Earth’s immediate orbit. SkyLab2 could be sent much farther away: to Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, on the far side of the Moon, where it could provide a convenient departure point for deep space exploration.
While SkyLab2 is still in the planning stages, any serious thoughts about further, sustained exploration of our solar system will require investment in this type of technology.
Let’s just be sure not to send up any giant autonomous robots.
Watch A Video About NASA’s Plans for Future Exploration:
Images Courtesy of NASA