Deep space exploration a reality within a decade

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(AP) -- With celebrations for World Space Week around the corner, agencies across the globe are assessing the impact of the proposed Deep Space Gateway, that will be a staging post to enable us to explore our universe as never before.

With celebrations for World Space Week around the corner, agencies across the globe are assessing the impact of the proposed Deep Space Gateway, that will be a staging post to enable us to explore our universe as never before. Courtesy: AP

The new base is expected to replace the International Space Station, and allow us to keep a manned presence above Earth.

For decades the race has been to get us to the moon.

The most recent accomplishment has been the International Space Station (ISS) which has provided a temporary home orbiting some two hundred miles above the Earth.

The ISS is a major achievement in cooperation between different nations around the world.

The first piece of the station was launched in 1998, the first crew landed in November 2000.

Since then the ISS has enabled scientists to conduct rafts of experiments which have revealed more about the universe around us.

Now NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have announced construction of the Deep Space Gateway will begin in 2022 and may reach completion in 2024.

Most significantly it is expected to provide astronauts with a launch pad for a mission to Mars.

But cooperation in space hasn't always been the case.

Russia's successful launch of Sputnik in October 1957 sent shockwaves around America, which had expected to be the first to have a space mission.

It was the start of a steady stream of craft to the moon.

Al Worden was on board Apollo 15 in 1971.

His mission, alongside David Scott and James Irwin, was the first flight of the Lunar Roving Vehicle which allowed them to examine the geology of the moon.

Now aged 85 Worden remembers the start of the space race.

"In a way it was kind of a lucky happenstance. There were a lot of people who wanted to get us into space to begin with, there was not a political imperative to do that at the time, but when the Russians launched Sputnik that eliminated that barrier and all of a sudden we're saying: "Hey we can't let those people get ahead of us," and the feeling was that if we allowed other countries to control space then we're going to be captive to them for a lot of things. We have got to compete, we cannot let them do that and look down on us from space without having some kind of alternative we can provide."

Many space scientists at the New Scientist Live conference in London say they sense another wave of excitement about the opportunity to further explore the planets around us.

UK Space Agency researcher Dr. Louisa Preston says: "Oh the Deep Space Gateway is something to really look forward to, it's going to be an amazing joint venture between many space agencies, the US, Europe, Russia, probably companies as well, to try and find a way to build a crude orbiting satellite around the moon and that's going to be used for exploring the moon, but also it's going to be a base for us to send missions onto Mars and so it's going to revolutionise space travel."

Preston is among those who believe the new staging post will usher in the development of transport vessels to explore our solar system, but she says we are a long way from even starting to be self sufficient in space.

"We understand a lot from having the International Space Station we know that self supporting ourselves is very important, we are growing plants and vegetables on the International Space Station so we will be expected to do the same for Deep Space Gateway, but no, we won't be Earth independent we'll be very much reliant on supplies coming from the Earth as well."

This is an early prototype of the rover which the landing craft on Mars might carry.

For the UK Space Agency's Libby Jackson,Mars is the ultimate prize.

According to Jackson: "By going out to the Deep Space Gateway in a lunar orbit and out towards the moon we can look at questions that we can't look at here in the lower orbit facility. We can look at how the radiation environment affects us we can look at science looking back on the Earth as a whole sphere and see how that works and so it will enable exciting new science and it will also be a stepping stone and a staging post as humans explore beyond earth for the first time since the Apollo missions. So it will enable human missions down to the surface of the moon, we can then test out technologies there that will enable humans to go on to Mars which where the really exciting scientific questions are."

Former astronauts like Worden are urging NASA and Roscosmos to get more countries directly involved in the building of our new headquarters in space.

Worden believes continued exploration could ultimately mean the survival of human kind.

"My focus goes way beyond the moon and Mars, why did we go to begin with? Why are we going to Mars, why do we go to the Moon? Why do we go to Mars? To me it is a progression of exploration that's going to go further out and further and further out. In my opinion and I'm probably sort of left-field with my ideas, but I believe the space programme is to get us ready to go somewhere else when we need to."

Now companies, including Lockheed Martin, have revealed they are already working on concepts for a Mars base camp.