Intelligent Machines

A Deep-Space Home for Astronauts

NASA is building a living and working space for astronauts traveling to the moon, Mars, or an asteroid.

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NASA is building a habitat for astronauts to live and work when they travel to distant locations like the moon, Mars, or an asteroid. The new habitat, called the Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU), underwent testing this year in the Arizona desert, an environment that simulates conditions that may be encountered on planetary surfaces in space. 

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The bottom portion of HDU is a hard cylinder-shaped shell with four work rooms inside: teleoperations, which includes a telerobotics workstation, a laboratory bench called GeoLab, medical operations, and a general maintenance workstation. There are two modules attached to both sides of HDU; the one at left (shown above) is used for dust mitigation; the second (obscured) is for hygiene.

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The telerobotics workstation is a new element. It lets astronauts inside the unit communicate with robots outside. Shown here is one of NASA’s most advanced robots, Robonaut, conducting work outside HDU during testing in Arizona.

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This image inside the habitat shows lettuce growing under artificial light. It’s an example of how HDU can be a sustainable, space-based living quarter.

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An inflatable structure sits on top of HDU to provide extra room for sleeping and relaxing. The inflatable loft design was part of a university competition called X-Hab. Here, the University of Maryland’s design is being lifted for placement atop HDU at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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The X-Hab loft built by the University of Wisconsin-Madison won the challenge, and is shown here being lifted to the habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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NASA says the unit could be sent to space for testing within a decade. Here, fully assembled, it sits in the Arizona desert at night.

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