|An artist’s rendering of the BEAM inflatable annex attached
to the side of the International Space Station.
08 April 2016
A new era for living in space may be about to start. A prototype habitat is headed to the International Space Station for a two-year trial. What makes the module unique is it’s launched folded up, and it’s inflated to its full size once in orbit.
The idea for inflatables began at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the 1990s. The space agency was trying to figure out how to get astronauts to Mars, without the crew going crazy living in a tiny capsule for months on end.
Kriss Kennedy was a NASA engineer working on the problem. It essentially boiled down to this: How do you pack a large living structure into a small rocket cargo space? The solution: inflatables. “Well, there are several advantages for inflatable habitats; one is you can package it in a smaller volume,” says Kennedy, and then expand it once you get into space.
The inflatable is not like a balloon. Folded up, it just looks like a cylinder. Expanded, it grows upward and outward so it looks more like a watermelon… READ MORE