The competiton heats up: Anthony Zak’s a detailed report of the design and development of the next generation space station modules Russia intends to dock at ISS has this interesting tidbit:
In addition to expanding the ISS, Russian developers viewed the NEM module as the basis for future Russian efforts to send humans beyond the Earth orbit. Thanks to its multi-function design, life support and power-supply capability, one or a whole cluster of such vehicles could provide habitation quarters and laboratories for a station at the so-called Lagrange points, which were considered as a staging ground for the exploration of the Moon, asteroids and Mars.
In case of an international agreement on the construction of a manned outpost in the Lagrange point, the NEM-based laboratory could constitute the Russian contribution into the effort. The NEM-based outpost could be serviced and staffed by the crews of US-European Orion spacecraft and by Russia’s next-generation spacecraft, PTK NP. Simularly, the NEM module, possibly in combination with other hardware, could serve as an outpost in the orbit around the Moon. Also in 2014, plans were hatched to make the NEM-based laboratory a part of the post-ISS Russian space station, VShOS, in the high-inclination orbit.
The Russians have always understood that a space station is nothing more than a prototype of an interplanetary spaceship. They are therefore simply carrying through with the same engineering research they did on their earlier Salyut and Mir stations, developing a vessel that can keep humans alive on long trips to other planets.
This approach makes a lot more sense that NASA’s SLS/Orion project, which does not give us what we need to make long interplanetary voyages, and costs a lot more.