Saturday saw NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station successfully inflate an expandable habitat — basically a pod that acts as an additional, experimental room. It was their second attempt at doing so, after the first try on Thursday didn’t work due to higher forces of friction than expected. Now that the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is inflated, it measures 10.6 feet across and 5.6 feet long, although it is not yet at maximum capacity.
Designed by Bigelow Aerospace, the BEAM pod is designed to act as a cheaper way to add additional living space for crews on long missions in space. This marks the first time the habitat is going through testing with astronauts. NASA hopes that inflatable pods such as this could be used by crews on multi-year missions to Mars at some point in the future.
The ISS astronauts haven’t been able to enter the habitat just yet, as they’ll spend the next week or so checking for leaks or any other problems, followed by pressurizing it. The plan is for the crew to check it out in early June, when they install sensors to measure radiation and temperature.
As the first test with astronauts, NASA is expecting to keep BEAM attached to the ISS for the next two years to see how it performs in space. Bigelow Aerospace hopes to one day produce inflatable modules 20 times larger than this test unit, giving astronauts not only more room to move around, but also extra space for research and experiments.