Talking about deep space.

Deep Space


The development of earth independence extends human presence beyond low Earth orbit and cislunar space and onto Mars. Missions during this stage of exploration range from 2-3 years with safe return of the crew to Earth taking months. Johnson Space Center provides agency leadership for the development and analysis of human spaceflight architectures, mission plans, and surface system definitions.  JSC is a leader in technology developments for Habitats, Space Suits, In-Situ Resource Utilization, and Entry, Decent, and Landing Systems and provides unique mission integration and test environments. Johnson Space Center is the agency’s lead center for Astromaterials and a leader in the science of planetary destinations.

Entry, Descent, and Landing

Entry, Descent, and Landing

Entry, Descent, and Landing technologies ensure precise and safe landings on planetary surfaces and encompass the full range of sensors and components, guidance and navigation systems, testing and qualification, and mission operations capable of achieving the following:

  • Enable heavier payloads travelling at faster velocities to enter and descend through atmospheres and land safely with higher precision than currently possible.
  • Provide highly reliable AAE systems for human and science missions that are capable of higher entry speeds, greater payload mass, improved approach navigation, and operation in extreme environments.
  • Provide greater deceleration in the supersonic and subsonic regimes in a manner that does not reduce landing accuracy or result in transient unsteadiness or loss of performance in the transonic regime.
  • Enable reliable landings on very rough and uncertain terrain for human-scale Mars vehicles with large masses.
  • Provide a thorough understanding of the flight environment for vehicle design and develop accurate tools for analyzing the end-to-end vehicle performance.

2015 NASA Technology Roadmap

Mars Surface Systems

Mars Surface Systems

At the Johnson Space Center and other NASA Centers, high level mission objectives for future human Mars missions are translated into specific surface systems and concepts of operations to achieve these objectives.  At present NASA has embarked on an approach that will allow human crews to live and work productively on Mars for extended periods of time and gradually become independent of support from Earth.  This requires not only an understanding of the Mars mission requirements but also constraints imposed by the Martian environment and the “known unknowns” that must be investigated and incorporated into an overall approach to pioneering on the surface of Mars.

The Johnson Space Center is responsible for identifying and evaluating candidate locations on the surface where humans could live and work productively.  Concepts such as the Exploration Zones and adaptation of the “field station” have originated here.  Adaptation and integration of specific surface system design concepts to achieve mission objectives is also a key aspect of Johnson Space Center’s role in the overall process of becoming “Mars Ready” for these future missions.

Video: Mars Exploration Zones


Mission Environments, Integration, and Testing

Mission Science, Integration, and Testing

Mission success through all stages of the Journey to Mars relies on the integration of science and engineering into all aspects of human exploration.  Mission relevant environments are key to testing a wide range of technologies, tools, and techniques in addition to trainingthe astronaut and ground operations crews in immersive environments.  Achieving early integration of science, engineering, system operations, and prototype testing in a mission relevant environment will greatly increase the mission returns, reduce the risks, and improve the affordability of deep-space missions. This includes bio-medical systems, astronaut health and performance, mission operations concepts, communications, EVA, field science, robotics, and much more.  At Johnson Space Center and other partnering centers, multi-disciplinary science and engineering teams design and carry out authentic mission tests to mature technologies and advance our readiness for deep space human exploration.


Analog Missions

Simulation and Virtual Reality

Space Radiation Protection

Space Radiation Protection

Space radiation risks to astronauts must be reduced to the lowest achievable level.  New technologies are being developed to increase crew mission duration in the free-space radiation environment while remaining below the space radiation permissible exposure limits (PELs).  These technology development objectives center on the following:

  • Risk Assessment Modeling:  Reduce uncertainty in assessing the risk of death due to radiation exposure and improve cancer risk assessments as well. Include circulatory and central nervous system (CNS) effects in assessments.
  • Radiation Mitigation and Biological Countermeasures:  Extend the number of safe days in space by developing biological countermeasures that reduce radiation health risks by 50% for the mission duration through small, low-mass, low-power, crew-friendly sensors that monitor the radiation environment.
  • Radiation Environment Modeling:  Improve the ability to predict future space weather events and their duration in order to prepare and protect the crew.

Space Radiation

Robotics and Autonomous Systems

Robotics and Autonomous Systems

Human exploration will require leveraging robotic systems in all phases of the mission as precursors to crewed missions, as crew helpers in space, and as caretakers of assets left behind.  The goals are to extend our reach into space, expand our planetary access capability, increase our ability to manipulate assets and resources, support our astronaut crews during their space operations, extend the life of the systems they leave behind, and enhance the efficacy of human operations.  To achieve these ends, robotic capabilities will be extended in these areas:

  • Sensing and Perception: Provide situational awareness for exploration robots, human-assistive robots, and autonomous spacecraft; and improve drones and piloted aircraft.
  • Mobility:  Reach and operate at sites of scientific interest in extreme surface terrain or free-space environments.
  • Manipulation:  Increase manipulator dexterity and reactivity to external forces and conditions while reducing overall mass and launch volume and increasing power efficiency.
  • Human-System Interaction: Enable a human to rapidly understand the state of the system under control and effectively direct its actions towards a new desired state.
  • System-Level Autonomy: Enable extended-duration operations without human intervention to improve overall performance of human exploration, robotic missions, and aeronautics applications.


Science and Planetary Destinations

science and planetary banner

We explore to extend our human presence throughout our solar system.  We also explore to enrich our scientific understanding of other planets, our Moon, and nearby asteroids.   There is a mission critical need to understand the varied and extreme planetary surfaces we will visit on the Journey to Mars.   The harsh, rocky environments of the Moon, asteroids, Mars, and other destinations experience a wide range of temperatures, gravity, radiation, rock and mineral types, dust, and other environments that must be understood to correctly design spacecraft, landing systems, environmental and life support, space suites, ISRU systems, and science instruments.  Johnson Space Center leads the agency in Astromaterials Curation and research into these planetary destinations as a resource for astromaterials and simulants for testing and analysis, and actively participates in active robotic missions on Mars as well as past, current, and future human science exploration.


Astromaterials Research

Extraterrestrial Samples

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