Space.com reports on a concept for the proposed NASA deep space station that is a "back to the future" approach that has been dubbed "Skylab 2." It involves launching the deep space station to the Earth/moon L2 point in one piece.
Skylab 2 beyond the moon
According to the Space.com piece, the Skylab 2 concept would consist of a single-piece habitat based on the Space Launch System's upper-stage hydrogen tank. The resulting space station would be the equivalent of a two-story house, enough to accommodate a crew of four astronauts and several years of provisions with comfort. Solar arrays, radiators, and a module that contains equipment for assembly, repair, and propellant transfer would be attached. The advantage over using International Space Station modules is that in the latter case, some assembly would be required. Skylab 2 would be ready for occupancy by a four-person crew launched separately in an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
Deep space station
The news that NASA was mulling using the Space Launch System heavy lift launcher to deploy a deep space station at the Earth/moon L2 point, 38,000 miles beyond the moon's far side, was first reported in the Orlando Sentinel in September. Such a space station would be human tended, hosting crews for weeks and then months at a time. It would serve as a way station for expeditions into deep space or back to the lunar surface. Astronauts on the deep space station would tele-operate robots on the lunar surface and would study the effects of deep space, which includes microgravity and radiation, on the human body.
The original Skylab
According to NASA, the original Skylab was launched in 1973 as the third stage of a Saturn V. Three crews of astronauts rode Apollo spacecraft to the Skylab, staying for weeks and then months at a time, conducting experiments and Earth observations in real time in what constituted the first American space station. There had been plans to boost the Skylab to a stable orbit and perhaps use it for several more crews, but delays in the space shuttle program resulted in the facility's orbit decaying and crashing debris across the Indian Ocean and the western part of Australia in July 1979. According to the Encyclopedia Astronautica, a brief study was made to use a Skylab-type module to create a space station in lunar orbit, but was quickly abandoned due to lack of funding and justification.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo, The Last Moonwalker, and Dreams of Barry's Stepfather. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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