The cargo space container, named Donatello built 15 years ago, is being refurbished into a habitat prototype.

NASA builds prototype for deep space habitat out of recycled cargo containerImage: Facebook/Lockheed Martin
Features Science Thursday, July 27, 2017 - 13:38

The first prototype of NASA's deep space habitat will be made up of a recycled aluminum cargo container and will help the space agency to develop life-support systems that can protect astronauts when they travel beyond low-Earth orbits.

The cargo space container, named Donatello built 15 years ago, will be refurbished into a habitat prototype by Lockheed Martin -- a global security and aerospace company -- at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

From the outside, Donatello looks like just a massive cylindrical metal container, about 21 feet long and 15 feet in diameter. 

However, the interior will be turned into a living quarter, with robotics work stations for astronauts, a place to exercise and storage spaces for food, water, toiletries - "all the tings you need to live and be happy in space", said Bill Pratt, programme manager for the habitat contract, at Lockheed Martin.

"While building this habitat, we have to operate in a different mindset that's more akin to long trips to Mars to ensure we keep them safe, healthy and productive," Pratt added.

Donatello, was one of three built by the Italian Space Agency in the 1990s to serve as "moving vans carrying equipment, experiments and supplies to and from the International Space Station" and was delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Centre from Italy in 2001. 

The project, which would take about 18 months to be ready for roll out, is a step toward NASA's next big human spaceflight project called the Deep Space Gateway -- a "spaceport" in the moon's orbit where astronauts would live for up to a year. 

The Deep Space Gateway habitat will be docked to a spacecraft called Orion, the "exploration vehicle" that will carry astronauts to space.

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