London: Russian, European and US space agencies are considering the possibility of flying a manned mission around the Moon using the space station as a launching point.
The agencies want the station to become more than just a high-flying platform for doing experiments in microgravity - they want to see it become a testbed for the technologies and techniques that will be needed by humans when they push out beyond low-Earth orbit to explore destinations such as asteroids and Mars.
"The idea is to ascend to the space station the various elements of the mission, and then try to assemble the spacecraft at the ISS, and go from the orbit of the space station to the Moon," the BBC quoted Europe`s director of human spaceflight, Simonetta Di Pippo.
This vehicle would then likely return straight to Earth, rather than returning to the ISS. The venture would need some kind of CSM element for the astronauts, together with a departure stage - a propulsion unit that could accelerate the astronauts` vehicle out of low-Earth orbit, putting it on a path to the Moon.
However, the idea as of now is far from being a reality.
Although the platform will keep Earth-orientated sciences in a zero-g environment always as its priority, with many laboratory tasks being automated, there should also be scope to begin new activities, and the partners believe one key role for the ISS going forward will be as a development platform for deep space exploration.
Learning how to assemble exploration vehicles at the ISS would also be part of this new vision.
And if the crew assigned to man the deep-space mission travels up separately to the station, it would also mean all the elements for their long-duration flight could be launched without the complications of ultra-safe abort systems that complicate manned rockets.