Despite not launching any rockets in the near future NASA will still have a busy summer as they continue to develop systems for the next phase of space exploration.
Right now, NASA is testing and training astronauts at the world's only undersea research facility, Aquarius. Project NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) is housing astronauts for up to 10 days at a time, "We take the astronauts and put them in a real mission environment. An extreme environment where they are living for up to ten days at a time." says NEEMO Project Manager Bill Todd.
Todd says they can control the gravity the astronauts feel while working in and around Aquarius to simulate the gravity conditions they will find on an asteroid or Mars.
Also working with an eye on Mars is the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LSDS) project. Which, is testing parachutes and other deceleration technology that will be needed when trying to land large objects on the surface of Mars. The difficulty of designing these systems is that the atmosphere on Mars is about 1% as thick as it is here on Earth. So, the LSDS test must be conducted high in the Earth's atmosphere.
The test consists of launching a flying saucer like vehicle to about 120,000 feet in the air via a weather-style balloon. Then a solid rocket will ignite and send the vehicle to supersonic speeds, about Mach 4. The vehicle will then inflate a large balloon to make the vehicle slow down enough to allow the use of supersonic parachutes. The design is based off of the Hawaiian pufferfish.
Development is also continuing on the next rocket system, the Space Launch System or SLS. It be used to launch the equipment and space vehicles needed to take astronauts to both a distant asteroid and eventually to Mars itself.