Aerospace engineer Dava Newman has devoted her career to figuring out how we might live in space—suspending subjects from the rafters of her MIT lab to study reduced gravity and designing a flexible, self-mending space suit. As NASA’s new deputy director, she is now tasked with the planning and policy that will make greater human space exploration possible. That means leading the agency’s 18,000 employees and 40,000 contractors toward a successful crewed mission to Mars by the 2030s.
In her own words
Right now, we have five rovers and orbiters exploring Mars. A human mission is a different ballgame. You have to think about stuff like access to water, psychological impact, radiation, and what happens to your muscles and bones in three-eighths of Earth’s gravity. Those are the kinds of things we’re trying to figure out on the International Space Station. The twins experiment, for example, will compare the vital signs of the Kelly brothers—one in space and one on Earth—to see physiological and genetic differences.
“If everyone isn’t talking about our journey to Mars at the dinner table, I want to change that.”
After the ISS, the next phase will be to go beyond low-Earth orbit into cislunar space, the region between Earth and the moon. That will be a proving ground in the 2020s. Then, we’ll move into the neighborhood of Mars. Before we go to the Red Planet itself, we might want to go to one of its two moons. There’s plenty to learn from landing there since the physics is different from here.
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SOURCE: Popular Science, Heather Hansman