ISS Astronauts Begin Testing BEAM — The World’s First Inflatable Space Habitat

By Sarah Benton Feitlinger

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On May 26, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams spent seven hours inflating the first expandable room at the International Space Station. Called Bigelow Expandable Activity Module or BEAM, the balloon-like structure that measures 10-feet by 13-feet, (about the size of an average bedroom), when fully inflated, is the first prototype of what NASA experts hope will be the space habitat of the future. The compressed module arrived at the ISS aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on April 8 and was put in place outside the Tranquility module by ISS’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.

Though the ISS astronauts will not be residing in this new room, they will spend many hours there, collecting data to help them assess if it is habitable. The astronauts will also monitor the module’s ability to withstand the harsh external conditions, such as solar radiation, space debris, and extreme temperature fluctuations. At the end of the two-year mission, BEAM will be released from the space station and allowed to float back to Earth. NASA expects the inflatable habitat to burn up as it re-enters the atmosphere.

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