In a major step toward the human exploration of Mars — or to a possible re-exploration of the surface of the Moon — National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been in contact with the designers of the International Space Station (ISS) to create a cis-lunar station. The project will also be used in order to determine and to test technologies necessary to send humans to Mars in the next decade.
The space station will be used for habitation and cargo management, among other functions that will assist astronauts who are working in cis-lunar space.
The project will commence with the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS). The flights EM-2 and EM-3 will also aid in delivering the necessary components. The materials and elements to be used for the project will be classified as the secondary cargo of these flights.
However, the nature of the contents of the first flight toward the creation of the outpost is still under contention, as stated by William Gerstenmaier, the NASA associate administrator for human exploration and explorations. There are proposals being made if human crews will join these flights.
"We've really got to start making some decisions about what that cargo is, whom we partner with and how we build the equipment. You're going to see us, over the next several months, starting to make some pretty crisp decisions about what goes on those flights," Gerstenmaier said.
In February, five space agencies all over the world convened in a closed-door meeting in Tsukuba, Japan where the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency is located. They finalized the decision regarding the controversial location of the outpost in Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NHRO), an area that is suitable for the solar energy needs of the proposed space station. The location will also be the determinant of the future track of the space station.