NASA’s NextSTEP into Space? A Real Life Deep Space Station? What is this Star Trek?

Hubble Spies a Loopy Galaxy

Ever wanted to live in Space? Well, that dream might be closer than you think. In 2018, researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center released an update paper on the progress of NextSTEP Phase 2. What’s NextSTEP, you ask? It stands for NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program. This program is a public-private partnership that wants to seek commercial development of deep space exploration, such as extensive human spaceflight missions. The first phase of NextSTEP kicked off in 2014, when NASA made the announcement of plans to inhabit the area of space between the earth and the orbit of the moon (cislunar). These plans were created to leverage the commercialization of low earth orbit and will be part of the Deep Space Gate Way. The Deep Space Gateway is a space station planned by NASA for construction in the 2020s (stay tuned to our blog for more information on the Deep Space Gateway).

In 2016, NextSTEP Phase 2 selected five commercial companies to start creating ground prototypes. To ensure that these prototypes can be successful, a test team of NASA engineers has been developing evaluation criteria since 2008. Also known as the ground test protocol, these evaluation criteria are the most important part of Phase 2 of the NextSTEP program. The protocol was created by using both a top-down and bottom-up approach. The top-down approach was based on the exploration goals from the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), and the flight objectives from the NASA Future Capabilities Team (FCT), Evolvable Mars Campaign (EMC) and the Human Health and Performance (HH&P) teams. The bottom-up approach was written by the same set of organizations but included all of the smaller details of the mission from logistics to avionics, and Mission Control Center operations. After completion, the teams decided that the ground tests will be evaluated using inspection, demonstration, analysis, subsystem standalone testing, and human in the loop (HITL) testing. Finally, the team will recommend the best habitation platform to advance to stage 3!

OPINION: As I understand it, aspects of the Deep Space Gateway are going to be extremely helpful for other missions including travel to Mars and further into the galaxy. The DSG reminds me of Yorktown Station from Star Trek Beyond. However, our Deep Space Gateway will spend more time in Earth’s orbit then floating around in space with Starfleet like the fictional Yorktown. It’s going to be interesting to see just how far we can take this program.


Beaton, K. H., Chappell, S. P., Bekdash, O. S., Gernhardt, M. L. 2018. Development of a Ground Test and Analysis Protocol to Support NASA’s NextSTEP Phase 2 Habitation Concepts. NASA Technical Reports Sever: JSC-CN-39874.

Another Incoming Climate Change Victim?

Ocean acidification, arguably climate change’s worst product where CO2 which has been released into the atmosphere is then absorbed by the ocean effectively lowering its pH level, is yet again being proven to negatively affect marine life. This time, a few researchers at the Tjärnö Marine Research Station in Sweden conducted a year and a half long experiment on ocean acidification’s affect on a marine invertebrate known as Balanus improvisus, a type of barnacle known to be sensitive to short term changes in ocean pH levels. The study took reared laboratory bread barnacles as well as field collected assemblages, and held some of each under normal ocean pH levels of 8.1 and  a more acidic level of 7.5. Their results, were sadly quite predictable. 

The acidification not only caused the barnacles mortality rate to heavily increase, but also led to reduced growth and reproduction rates. In fact, barnacles were even paired up with one another so as to increase breeding rates, yet still both the laboratory made and field collected samples held in the more acidic water, failed to produce any fertilized embryos. Though most of the surviving barnacles of the acidic water developed mature gonads ( organs used for reproduction) in the end they all failed to reproduce over the 16 months studied, meaning they were able to acclimate to their new environment, but only partially.

Group of barnacles

The two big aspects to take away here are firstly, that barnacles are ecologically important, economically important, and widely studied ecosystem engineers that if lost would be awful for marine environments and future studies on the health of environments. Secondly, that this study proves once again that climate change, specifically ocean acidification is detrimental to marine life across all aspects.  So much aquatic life is quickly disappearing due to this phenomenon as well as ocean temperature risings, both of which are direct products of global warming. Sadly, these invertebrate are just another example, in a sea of them (pun not intended), of the major issues that are headed our way if we don’t reduce our carbon emissions.


Anil A. C., 2018. Long term exposure to acidification disrupts reproduction in a marine invertebrate. PLoS One V. 13(2): 19-36.