Space shuttle cargo module to be deep space habitat prototype

Lockheed Martin will turn a retired space shuttle cargo capsule into a prototype deep space living module.
By Kathy Fey | Jul 26, 2017
A prototype deep space living habitat will be fashioned from a shuttle-era cargo module for NASA astronauts to test possible living conditions for missions beyond Earth orbit.

Space.com reports that Lockheed Martin plans to repurpose a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) originally designed to fly on space shuttles to create the prototype. The Donatello MPLM which Lockheed will use was meant to be a supply container for deliveries to the International Space Station. The module will now serve as a sample living area for astronauts working in deep space.

"We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware, originally designed for low Earth orbit exploration, to play a role in humanity's push into deep space," Bill Pratt of Lockheed Martin said in a statement.

Donatello was one of three MPLMs built for NASA by the Italian Space Agency. The other two modules, named Leonardo and Raffaello, flew 12 missions, while Donatello was never used to deliver cargo.

The cylindrical MPLM is 21 feet long and 15 wide. Over an 18-month period, Lockheed Martin will turn the module into a habitat prototype at its current storage space in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The project will help inform NASA of what kind of systems, standards, and considerations will be needed for long-term deep space missions.

"It is easy to take things for granted when you are living at home, but the recently selected astronauts will face unique challenges," Pratt said. "Something as simple as calling your family is completely different when you are outside of low Earth orbit. While building this habitat, we have to operate in a different mindset that's more akin to long trips to Mars to ensure we keep them safe, healthy and productive."

The deep space module is intended to become part of the Deep Space Gateway, a crewed station in lunar orbit. Deep Space Gateway, now under development by NASA, would serve as a staging point for missions to the moon and further afield in the solar system.

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