Stepping Stones

NASA has no intention of limiting space exploration to the International Space Station alone, however. In 2004, then-President Bush directed NASA to develop an initiative expanding exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond. By 2020, NASA plans to establish “a long-term human presence on the moon.” Such an establishment, coupled with the ISS and later a Mars colony, will be vital stepping stones for sustainable space exploration well into the future.

To help reach that goal, NASA awarded $3.8 million in 2005 to researchers at MIT to develop a comprehensive supply chain management system for space. Called the Interplanetary Supply Chain Management and Logistics Architectures (IPSCM&LA), the project includes a sophisticated program called SpaceNet that models interplanetary supply chains. The supply chain network will consist of a series of “nodes on planetary surfaces, in stable orbits around the Earth, the moon or Mars, or at well-defined points in space where the gravitational force between the two bodies (in this case, the Earth and the moon) cancel each other out.”

Acting as points of transfer, these nodes would streamline the flow of supplies and crews, though significant cost considerations and time delays (up to nine months for Mars) will necessitate careful planning and rationing of vital supplies.

These supply chain innovations mean one thing for astronauts and regular dreamers alike: the final frontier is finally in reach.

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