Washington: NASA is planning to use the International Space Station to prepare for a human mission to Mars, beginning with a planned week-long simulation to be staged next summer.
Initial studies would focus on figuring out effective and safe ways for NASA``s ever-present Mission Control to give the astronauts more autonomy.
"We want to use the space station as a way to get smarter about what a mission to Mars or a mission to an asteroid might look like," space station flight controller Pete Hasbrook told Discovery News.
The simulation on the station would be the first step in a series of increasingly more complicated and realistic Mars-like operations.
One proposal is to have space station astronauts participate in ground simulations immediately upon their return to Earth, before they have had a chance to recondition their bodies after six months in weightlessness.
Six months is about how long it will take to get to Mars with existing technology.
"Rather than just going up (on the station) for six months and landing and having a whole support staff to help you, which is the norm right now, we``d have them actually do a mission that shows they are physically capable of performing tasks after spending six months in microgravity and then landing on the surface of a planet," Chris Carberry, founder and executive director of the Explore Mars advocacy group, told Discovery News.
Though gravity on Earth is stronger than on Mars, combining a six-month stay on the space station with a post-flight simulation on Earth would be valuable learning experience, he said.
"I think something even as long as a month (post-flight) would be useful," he said.