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NASA Explains Plans for a Permanently-Manned Outpost in Space.

Apr 04, 2013 01:52 PM EDT

NASA's new motto goes something like this: Without funding, anything is possible. Or maybe just the classic: Recycle, recycle, recycle.

Either way, the agency is looking at turning the upper-stage propellant tank of the mega-rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) into a permanently manned outpost in space, according to

The news comes just months after a senior administrator from NASA told the site that the White House hadn't cleared any plans for a manned space station beyond the Moon.

The tank, which is 17,500 feet, is far bigger than any of the modules that comprise the International Space Station (ISS) and has been termed "Skylab II" after the original Skylab project, which was derived from parts of the Saturn V rocket during a time of shrinking funds.

Brad Griffin is an engineer with Gray Research Inc. who works with the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. As he explained during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations working group, the conversion process would not be especially difficult.

"The idea is not challenging technology," he said, according to "It's just trying to say, 'Is this the time to be able to look at existing assets, planned assets and incorporate those into what we have as a destination of getting humans beyond LEO [low-Earth orbit]?"

In all, the tank could fit four people along with enough food and gear to last several years at a time and since it functions as just one unit, unlike the ISS, launches to establish and maintain the structure would be minimal, Griffin said.

What's more, the scientist explained that once in place, Skylab II could act as a staging ground for lunar operations as well as a launching pad for more distant destinations. Ultimately, he explained, the device would essentially act as a ferry through space.

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