As usual, the difference between sci-fi and reality is striking, but despite its unsexy appearance, the Nautilus-X is NASA's first take on a manned space exploration vehicle destined for other planets.
Before we go any further, I feel like it's important to equate you with what Nautilus-X stands for, because it's possibly the most awkward acronym ever. According to NASA's Technology Applications Assessment Team (or TAAT), Nautilus-X is an acronym for "Non-Atmospheric Univeral Transport Intended for Lengthy United States X-ploration." So there you go. Anyway, now we can move on.
You might not mind the gangly and jumbled look of the Nautilus-X if you think the ISS is as lovely as I do, and the spaceship concept certainly does exhibit a not entirely unpleasant utilitarian minimalism. The craft is designed to support a crew of six in deep space for anywhere between one month and two years at a stretch. It's got an integrated centrifuge to provide artificial gravity for its occupants, and the habitation modules are mostly inflatable.
In some configurations, Nautilus-X comes with little baby spaceships and landers, like shuttlecraft or those pod-things from 2001. The propulsion system is completely modular, and can be swapped out depending on where Nautilus-X is headed. It can dock with the ISS, and would only cost a modest $3.7 billion over 64 months to build.
Despite how much sense it makes for Nautilus-X to look the way it does, I have to wonder how much it would cost NASA to bolt on some badass plastic fairings to give this thing a pointy nose and rakish (albeit utterly useless) wings, and how it would be exponentially worth it in terms of PR and inspiring the imaginations of space geeks like me.