NASA recently confirmed that it plans to conduct a total of 10 year-long missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for selected astronauts. According to the agency, extending the missions would help the agency prepare for human expeditions to Mars.
NASA made the announcement during the Space Health Innovation Conference recently held in San Francisco. The agency explained that by increasing the time astronauts spend on the orbiting station to at least a year, it will be able to gather important information regarding the effects of prolonged spaceflights on the human body.
Usually, ISS astronauts spend about six months aboard the station before returning to Earth. Although this period provides astronauts with enough time to get used to living in space, it still falls short compared to what humans will experience during a mission to Mars. After all, a one-way trip to the Red Planet can already take about eight to nine months to complete.
NASA has previously extended the missions of astronauts in space. Scott Kelly, for example, lived in space aboard the ISS for a year from 2015 to 2016. Likewise, cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko of Russia's space agency stayed on the orbiting station for 342 days straight. According to Julie Robinson, NASA's chief scientist for its ISS Program, the agency wants to carry on with these kinds of long-term missions in the near future.
"We really could do much more," she said during the conference according to Space.com. "We're ready to do more, because we have 20 years of really good datasets. What we're saying now is we want to really bump that up a notch and add 10 more subjects to that U.S. database."
Since NASA's new spaceflight program Artemis includes the first crewed expedition to Mars, Robinson and NASA believe that year-long missions on the ISS would provide the necessary data needed in order to prepare for a historical journey to the Red Planet. But aside from NASA's astronauts, the agency will also coordinate with its Russian counterpart to see if cosmonauts would also participate in the year-long ISS stints.
"We're still working with our Russian colleagues to define if they're going to have some cosmonauts participate as well," Robinson said. "Because that's the strongest [option], is if we have both entities collaborating, like we did with Mikhail and Scott."