NASA deep space habitat

Earlier this year Congress announced it would increase the space agency’s budget by $1.3 billion in 2016.

Now, news has emerged that a chunk of that money has been directed towards getting to mars.

As Popular Science noted, Congress directed NASA to use $55 million of its $19.3 billion budget to begin building a deep space habitat that will house astronauts during future exploratory missions to the red planet.

Mars capsule concept The nonprofit Inspiration Mars envisions sending humans to Mars in a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule fitted with an inflatable element.

Mars capsule concept
The nonprofit Inspiration Mars envisions sending humans to Mars in a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule fitted with an inflatable element. NASA deep space habitat

According to reports, congress gave the agency until 2018 to develop a decent prototype model of the “habitation module.” NASA must also produce a report on the status of the program in 180 days.

The space agency said it hopes to launch a crewed mission to Mars by the 2030s, and to begin cislunar (between Earth and the moon) testing of a workable habitat by the 2020s.

The agency has already started working with companies like Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing and Orbital ATK to study habitat designs. The new funding and directive from Congress, however, “could force NASA to speed up” these plans, SpaceNews noted.

NASA’s habitation module may “shape deep space travel for dozens of decades,” wrote Yahoo! Tech. For now, though, very little is known about the habitat, including its requirements and how it will be built.

“It’s much too early for that,” Sam Scimemi, International Space Station director at NASA Headquarters, told SpaceNews. “As soon as I put a picture up there, somebody is going to assume what the configuration is.”