deep space habitat

The Martian Movie and Our Real Journey to Mars

The Martian movie is set 20 years in the future, but here at NASA we are already developing many of the technologies that appear in the film. The movie takes the work we’re doing and extends it into fiction set in the 2030s, when NASA astronauts are regularly traveling to Mars and living on the surface. Here are a few ways The Martian movie compares to what we’re really doing on our journey to Mars:

Analog Missions

MOVIE: In the film, Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on the Red Planet.

REALITY: In preparation for sending humans to Mars, we have completed one of the most extensive isolation missions in Hawaii, known as HI-SEAS. The goal of this study was to see how isolation and the lack of privacy in a small group affects social aspects of would-be explorers. The most recent simulation was eight months long, and the next mission is planned to last a year.


MOVIE: The Martian movie launches astronauts on the Aries missions from a refurbished and state of the art space center.

REALITY: Currently, the Ground Systems Development and Operations’ primary objective is to prepare the center to process and launch the next-generation vehicles and spacecraft designed to achieve our goals for space exploration. We are not only working to develop new systems, but also refurbishing and upgrading infrastructure to meet future demands.

Deep Space Propulsion

MOVIE: In the film, the astronauts depart the Red Planet using a propulsion system know as the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).

REALITY: We are currently developing the most powerful rocket we’ve ever built, our Space Launch System (SLS). Once complete, this system will enable astronauts to travel deeper into the solar system than ever before! The RS-25 engines that will be used on the SLS, were previously utilized as the main engine on our space shuttles. These engines have proven their reliability and are currently being refurbished with updated and improved technology for our journey to Mars.

Mission Control

MOVIE: In the movie, Mission Control operations support the Aries 3 crew.

REALITY: On our real journey to Mars, Mission Control in Houston will support our Orion spacecraft and the crew onboard as they travel into deep space.


MOVIE: The artificial living habitat on Mars in The Martian movie is constructed of industrial canvas and contains an array of life support systems.

REALITY: The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA), formerly known as the Deep Space Habitat, is a three-story module that was designed and created through a series of university competitions. Studies conducted in habitat mockups will allow us to evolve this technology to create a reliable structures for use on Mars.


MOVIE: The characters in the film are able to cruise around the Red Planet inside the Mars Decent Vehicle (MDV).

REALITY: We are currently developing a next generation vehicle for space exploration. Our Mars Exploration Vehicle (MEV) is designed to be flexible depending on the destination. It will have a pressurized cabin, ability to house two astronauts for up to 14 days and will be about the size of a pickup truck.


MOVIE: Astronaut Mark Watney grows potatoes on Mars in The Martian movie.

REALITY: We’re already growing and harvesting lettuce on the International Space Station in preparation for deep space exploration. Growing fresh food in space will provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement, and could also be used for recreational gardening during deep space missions.


MOVIE: The spacesuit worn by astronauts in the film allows them to work and function on the surface of Mars, while protecting them from the harsh environment.

REALITY: Prototypes of our Z-2 Exploration Suit are helping to develop the technologies astronauts will use to live and work on the the Martian surface. Technology advances in this next generation spacesuit would shorten preparation time, improve safety and boost astronaut capabilities during spacewalks and surface activities.  

Hi guys,

it’s time for another update, a bit more exciting than the previous one. Last months were a bit busy for me, lots of freelance work, but also, lots of exciting work for future Space That Never Was projects! More detailed announcements coming next month, the first one very soon, on May 3. Until then, you can enjoy a little sneak peek included in the image attached to this post.

See you in a few days!

What You Should Know About Scott Kelly’s #YearInSpace

1. It’s Actually More Like a Three-Year Mission

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko may have had a year-long stay in space, but the science of their mission will span more than three years. One year before they left Earth, Kelly and Kornienko began participating in a suite of investigations aimed at better understanding how the human body responds to long-duration spaceflight. Samples of their blood, urine, saliva, and more all make up the data set scientists will study. The same kinds of samples continued to be taken throughout their stay in space, and will continue for a year or more once they return.

2. What We Learn is Helping Us Get to Mars

One of the biggest hurdles of getting to Mars is ensuring humans are “go” for a long-duration mission and that crew members will maintain their health and full capabilities for the duration of a Mars mission and after their return to Earth. Scientists have solid data about how bodies respond to living in microgravity for six months, but significant data beyond that timeframe had not been collected…until now. A mission to Mars will likely last about three years, about half the time coming and going to Mars and about half the time on Mars. We need to understand how human systems like vision and bone health are affected by the 12 to 16 months living on a spacecraft in microgravity and what countermeasures can be taken to reduce or mitigate risks to crew members during the flight to and from Mars. Understanding the challenges facing humans is just one of the ways research aboard the space station helps our journey to Mars.

3. The Science Will Take Some Time

While scientists will begin analyzing data from Kelly and Kornienko as soon as they return to Earth, it could be anywhere from six months to six years before we see published results from the research. The scientific process takes time, and processing the data from all the investigations tied to the one-year mission will be no easy task. Additionally, some blood, urine and saliva samples from Kelly and Kornienko will still be stored in the space station freezers until they can be returned on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. Early on in the analytical process scientists may see indications of what we can expect, but final results will come long after Kelly and Kornienko land.

4. This Isn’t the First Time Someone Has Spent a Year in Space

This is the first time that extensive research using exciting new techniques like genetic studies has been conducted on very long-duration crew members. Astronaut Scott Kelly is the first American to complete a continuous, year-long mission in space and is now the American who has spent the most cumulative time in space, but it’s not the first time humans have reached this goal. Previously, only four humans have spent a year or more in orbit on a single mission, all aboard the Russian Mir Space Station. They all participated in significant research proving that humans are capable of living and working in space for a year or more.

  • Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov spent 438 days aboard Mir between January 1994 and March 1995 and holds the all-time record for the most continuous days spent in space.
  • Cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev spent 380 days on Mir between August 1998 and August 1999.
  • Cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov completed a 366-day mission from December 1987 to December 1988.

5. International Collaboration is Key

The International Space Station is just that: international. The one-year mission embodies the spirit of collaboration across countries in the effort to mitigate as many risks as possible for humans on long-duration missions. Data collected on both Kelly and Kornienko will be shared between the United States and Russia, and international partners. These kinds of collaborations help increase more rapidly the biomedical knowledge necessary for human exploration, reduce costs, improve processes and procedures, and improve efficiency on future space station missions.

6. So Much Science!

During Kelly’s year-long mission aboard the orbiting laboratory, his participation in science wasn’t limited to the one-year mission investigations. In all, he worked on close to 400 science studies that help us reach for new heights, reveal the unknown, and benefit all of humanity. His time aboard the station included blood draws, urine collection, saliva samples, computer tests, journaling, caring for two crops in the Veggie plant growth facility, ocular scans, ultrasounds, using the space cup, performing runs with the SPHERES robotic satellites, measuring sound, assisting in configuring cubesats to be deployed, measuring radiation, participating in fluid shifts testing in the Russian CHIBIS pants, logging his sleep and much, much more. All of this was in addition to regular duties of station maintenance, including three spacewalks!

7. No More Food in Pouches

After months of eating food from pouches and cans and drinking through straws, Kelly and Kornienko will be able to celebrate their return to Earth with food of their choice. While aboard the space station, their food intake is closely monitored and designed to provide exactly the nutrients they need. Crew members do have a say in their on-orbit menus but often miss their favorite meals from back home. Once they return, they won’t face the same menu limitations as they did in space. As soon as they land on Earth and exit the space capsule, they are usually given a piece of fruit or a cucumber to eat as they begin their initial health checks. After Kelly makes the long flight home to Houston, he will no doubt greatly savor those first meals.

8. After the Return Comes Reconditioning

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Use it or lose it.” The same thing can be said for astronauts’ muscles and bones. Muscles and bones can atrophy in microgravity. While in space, astronauts have a hearty exercise regimen to fight these effects, and they continue strength training and reconditioning once they return to Earth. They will also participate in Field Tests immediately after landing. Once they are back at our Johnson Space Center, Functional Task Tests will assess how the human body responds to living in microgravity for such a long time. Understanding how astronauts recover after long-duration spaceflight is a critical piece in planning for missions to deep space.

9. Twins Studies Have Researchers Seeing Double

One of the unique aspects of Kelly’s participation in the one-year mission is that he has an identical twin brother, Mark, who is a former astronaut. The pair have taken part in a suite of studies that use Mark as a human control on the ground during Scott’s year-long stay in space. The Twins Study is comprised of 10 different investigations coordinating together and sharing all data and analysis as one large, integrated research team. The investigations focus on human physiology, behavioral health, microbiology/microbiome and molecular/omics. The Twins Study is multi-faceted national cooperation between investigations at universities, corporations, and government laboratories.

10. This Mission Will Help Determine What Comes Next

The completion of the one-year mission and its studies will help guide the next steps in planning for long-duration deep space missions that will be necessary as humans move farther into the solar system. Kelly and Kornienko’s mission will inform future decisions and planning for other long-duration missions, whether they are aboard the space station, a deep space habitat in lunar orbit, or a mission to Mars.

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Alternative/Fictional space mission

Crewed mission of Aquila spacecraft to comet 46P/Wirtanen

Aquila spacecraft design is based on 500 day mission configuration of Deep Space Habitat, more closeup images coming soon.

Getting to Mars: 4 Things We’re Doing Now

We’re working hard to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. Here are just a few of the things we’re doing now that are helping us prepare for the journey:

1. Research on the International Space Station

The International Space Station is the only microgravity platform for the long-term testing of new life support and crew health systems, advanced habitat modules and other technologies needed to decrease reliance on Earth.

When future explorers travel to the Red Planet, they will need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and physiological benefits. The Veggie experiment on space station is validating this technology right now! Astronauts have grown lettuce and Zinnia flowers in space so far.

The space station is also a perfect place to study the impacts of microgravity on the human body. One of the biggest hurdles of getting to Mars in ensuring that humans are “go” for a long-duration mission. Making sure that crew members will maintain their health and full capabilities for the duration of a Mars mission and after their return to Earth is extremely important. 

Scientists have solid data about how bodies respond to living in microgravity for six months, but significant data beyond that timeframe had not been collected…until now! Former astronaut Scott Kelly recently completed his Year in Space mission, where he spent a year aboard the space station to learn the impacts of microgravity on the human body.

A mission to Mars will likely last about three years, about half the time coming and going to Mars and about half the time on the Red Planet. We need to understand how human systems like vision and bone health are affected and what countermeasures can be taken to reduce or mitigate risks to crew members.

2. Utilizing Rovers & Tech to Gather Data

Through our robotic missions, we have already been on and around Mars for 40 years! Before we send humans to the Red Planet, it’s important that we have a thorough understanding of the Martian environment. Our landers and rovers are paving the way for human exploration. For example, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has helped us map the surface of Mars, which will be critical in selecting a future human landing site on the planet.

Our Mars 2020 rover will look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet. These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques and characterizing weather, dust and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.

We’re also developing a first-ever robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface and redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. Once it’s there, astronauts will explore it and return with samples in the 2020s. This Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is part of our plan to advance new technologies and spaceflight experience needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s.

3. Building the Ride

Okay, so we’ve talked about how we’re preparing for a journey to Mars…but what about the ride? Our Space Launch System, or SLS, is an advanced launch vehicle that will help us explore beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket and will launch astronauts in our Orion spacecraft on missions to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

In the rocket’s initial configuration it will be able to take 154,000 pounds of payload to space, which is equivalent to 12 fully grown elephants! It will be taller than the Statue of Liberty and it’s liftoff weight will be comparable to 8 fully-loaded 747 jets. At liftoff, it will have 8.8 million pounds of thrust, which is more than 31 times the total thrust of a 747 jet. One more fun fact for you…it will produce horsepower equivalent to 160,000 Corvette engines!

Sitting atop the SLS rocket will be our Orion spacecraft. Orion will be the safest most advanced spacecraft ever built, and will be flexible and capable enough to carry humans to a variety of destinations. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

4. Making it Sustainable

When humans get to Mars, where will they live? Where will they work? These are questions we’ve already thought about and are working toward solving. Six partners were recently selected to develop ground prototypes and/or conduct concept studies for deep space habitats.

These NextSTEP habitats will focus on creating prototypes of deep space habitats where humans can live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth.

Another way that we are studying habitats for space is on the space station. In June, the first human-rated expandable module deployed in space was used. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is a technology demonstration to investigate the potential challenges and benefits of expandable habitats for deep space exploration and commercial low-Earth orbit applications.

Our journey to Mars requires preparation and research in many areas. The powerful new Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft will travel into deep space, building on our decades of robotic Mars explorations, lessons learned on the International Space Station and groundbreaking new technologies.

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