Ruthan tackles many of the considerations involved in exploring foreign lands, including establishing lunar habitations and developing robotics and rovers for journeys to Mars. Credit: NASA/Danny Baird
gateway, ESP, CIS, Profile 

Ruthan Lewis: Designing the Gateway to Mars

By Seema Vithlani

March 14, 2018

Imagine the path to deep space had a rest stop near the moon. Ruthan Lewis, an expert in fusing astronaut wellbeing with continued scientific discovery, is working to make this a reality in her latest project, NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway.

The outpost will help mankind explore the environment around the moon, called cis-lunar space, and learn to venture to Mars and worlds beyond. Eventually, the gateway could serve as a jumping-off platform for Mars travel.

Ruthan, who works in the Exploration Systems Project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is leveraging her background in human physiology, habitation design and astronaut training to determine the requirements of the lunar gateway. Her research will cover all aspects of spacecraft and astronaut readiness for traversing outer space.

For instance, advanced technology could enable crew members to reside at the outpost in lunar orbit for up to 30 days at a time. Ruthan is investigating what resources are needed for astronauts to live and conduct research at the gateway. She is also studying how the gateway will be constructed and used.

Ruthan began her career at NASA more than 30 years ago by training astronauts and integrating scientists’ requirements into spacecraft design. Since then, she has investigated human performance in space, coached crews to live and work in environments beyond Earth and helped enhance the design of tools that are operated in space by accounting for astronaut fatigue.

Ruthan has helped design habitation spaces and flight systems for the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions. She also planned Martian site design and investigated crew transport for a journey to Mars during NASA’s Evolvable Mars Campaign.

When NASA began to explore the idea of revisiting the moon, Ruthan, fascinated with habitability in extreme environments, obtained a master’s degree in architecture with a focus on lunar outposts. (She also holds a doctorate degree in biomechanical engineering.)

She is now applying her understanding of architecture and her experiences with habitation design to determine what factors need to be considered when constructing the gateway and transport vehicles. Her experience with human work and residence in space will also inform planning for activities and equipment at the lunar gateway and in the spacecraft that will transport astronauts to and from cis-lunar space and to Mars.

Ruthan is also exploring other space voyage-related topics, such as preserving the ecologies of foreign planets and architecting spacecraft to promote astronaut mental wellness.

Aside from her work on the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, Ruthan advises NASA on human factors – including human spaceflight challenges and human involvement in building space and aeronautical systems – for a variety of projects.

In her spare time, she undertakes various architectural projects on Earth, such as designing and remodeling homes and buildings, and she holds a pilot’s license.