As NASA and other organizations begin to lay the groundwork for manned missions to places other than an orbiting space station or even the moon, they begin to better understand the potential challenges that such missions bring Surviving space mission in the long run and succeeding will be difficult, but one of the less discussed technological hurdles between human and space exploration actually has to do with navigation. Later this month, NASA will launch a mission to test a tool that might come in handy once we're finally ready to see people travel to other worlds.
At present, all spaceships rely on orders from Earth to understand their position relationship with other objects such as planets. The systems work, but are certainly not ideal, especially for future missions with crews on other planets that might require split-second decisions.
NASA's Deep Space Atomic Mission mission will test the feasibility of such a space-aid instrument to help travelers navigate the stars. The device, which can quickly help a spacecraft recognize its position in space, could lead us to a future where ships can essentially drive themselves without relying on external input.
In the not too distant future, there will be spacecraft with crew heading to other planets. In this case, while it may still be possible to keep these ships grounded for navigation purposes, this would be scarcely efficient and it would be more appropriate for crews to be able to change their course in real time if needed.
"A clock on board would enable on-board radio navigation and, in combination with visual navigation, provide astronauts with a more accurate and secure way to navigate themselves," said Todd Ely, Principal Investigator of the Deep Space Atomic Clock statement.
NASA's atomic clock test mission will take about a year, and the agency is confident that it will open up new options for future navigation of spacecraft.