NASA’s space station orbiting the moon will be claustrophobic
The living quarters of NASA’s lunar-orbiting Gateway station will be so small that astronauts won’t be able to stand upright in them, said an architect involved in the station’s design.
NASA and its international partners plan to begin construction of the Gateway station in the moon’s orbit over the next few years. When completed by the end of the decade, the space lab will be about one-sixth the size of space International Space Station (ISS), featuring two living modules that force crew members to run out of personal space.
“The International Habitation module will have a living area of approximately 8 cubic metres [280 cubic feet] and you will have to share it with three others,” said René Waclavicek, a space architect and design researcher at Austria-based LIQUIFER Space Systems, at the Czech Space Week conference in Brno (opens in new tab)Czech Republic, on November 30, 2022. “In other words, that would be a 2 by 2 by 2 meter room [6.6 by 6.6 by 6.6 feet]. And there you are trapped. There are other rooms, but they aren’t bigger and there aren’t many.”
Waclavicek was involved in the design phase of it European-built International Habitation module (opens in new tab)or I-Hab, one of Gateway’s two habitable elements, essentially bedrooms combined with laboratory space (the other being the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (opens in new tab)HALO, developed by Northrop Grumman in the US).
When working on the design, the architects had to bow to practical requirements dictated by the nature of the project, Waclavicek said. Their initial hopes for larger modules, providing a more generous volume of habitable space similar to that of the International Space Station, had to be abandoned due to the impossibility of launching massive components into space. Moon.
“We started in the first phase with a cylinder with external dimensions similar to what we know from the ISS,” Waclavicek said. “That’s about 4.5 meters [15 feet] diameter and 6 m [20 feet] long. But due to mass limitations, we had to reduce it to 3m [10 feet] in outside dimensions. And so we had an internal diameter of only 1.2 m by 1.2 m [4 feet by 4 feet]. Most of the internal volume is occupied by machines, so it’s essentially just a corridor where you have to turn 90 degrees if you want to stretch out.”
The International Space Station, with its 7.2 by 7.2 foot wide (2.2 by 2.2 m) interiors, where astronauts could even perform space gymnastics routinesoffers a luxurious experience compared to what awaits lunar explorers on Gateway.
“[The I-Hab] is basically just a cylinder with a hatch at each end and two hatches on the sides and a corridor that goes through the longitudinal axis,” Waclavicek said. “Even if you want to pass each other, it’s already pretty hard. in the moment to let the other guy pass you by.
Somehow, the architects managed to build in about 5 cubic feet of private space, protected by closing doors for each crew member living in the i-Hab. But the experience of staying aboard the Gateway will be challenging for more reasons than just the cramped living quarters. As Waclavicek said, most of the module will be occupied by noisy and vibrating life support technology, the constant hum of which is likely to get on the nerves of most mere mortals.
“Basically, you live in an engine room,” Waclavicek said. “The life support systems are noisy. They have a lot of fans and you only have 5 cubic feet of private space where you can close the door and tame the noise.”
The architects explored ways to ease the strain on the crew and make the experience of being aboard the Gateway more enjoyable, but they kept coming up against technical limits, including those of launchers available to take the module to its destination. to send.
“We always get the question ‘where is the window?’ said Waclavicek. ‘On the International Space Station, the window is the most popular place where astronauts spend every free minute. But there are technical issues involved. The moon is a thousand times further away [than the ISS] and every window is a disturbance in the continuity of the structure. In addition, glass is very heavy, so a window is the first thing to cancel.”
However, there will be smaller windows on the Gateway, which is located in the ESPRIT tank module, which will also be built in Europe.
While the US HALO module may launch as early as 2024, I-Hab’s journey to the moon is not expected before 2027. Currently, Waclavicek said, the team is working on the Critical Design Review, an important milestone before hardware production can begin. and has begun building a full-scale mockup for testing human interaction with the habitat environment.
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