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By Michael Benson
Sunday, July 13, 2008; B03
Consider the International Space Station, that marvel of incremental engineering.
It has close to 15,000 cubic feet of livable space.
10 modules, or living and working areas; a Canadian robot arm that can repair the station from outside.
And the capacity to keep five astronauts (including the occasional wealthy rubbernecking space tourist) in good health for long periods.
It has gleaming, underused laboratories; its bathroom is fully repaired; and its exercycle is ready for vigorous mandatory workouts.
Send the ISS somewhere.
The ISS, you see, is already an interplanetary spacecraft -- at least potentially.
It's missing a drive system and a steerage module, but those are technicalities.
Although it's ungainly in appearance, it's designed to be boosted periodically to a higher altitude by a shuttle, a Russian Soyuz or one of the upcoming new Constellation program Orion spacecraft.
It could fairly easily be retrofitted for operations beyond low-Earth orbit.
In principle, we could fly it almost anywhere within the inner solar system -- to any place where it could still receive enough solar power to keep all its systems running.