Just this past Saturday, NASA successfully deployed the first ever expandable habitat on the ISS (International Space Station). Astronaut Jeff Williams inflated the habitat called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) with the help from ground control.
Controlling a valve, he gradually released air into the module in about 25 short bursts. By inflating the expandable habitat in bursts, the team allowed the it to stabilize after each bit of expansion, and allowed them to monitor the module’s pressure. After 7 hours, the BEAM was successfully inflated to full sized and completely stabilized.
You may be wondering why it would take so long to inflate a little room on the ISS. Well, that’s because when dealing with habitats/modules that are pressurized and oxygenated in the vacuum of space you have to be extremely careful. If the BEAM were to have malfunctioned in anyway it could have caused a large “explosion” (more of an implosion really) and completely destroyed it and potentially damaged the ISS.
Congratulations to everyone involved in the BEAM program. A significant milestone has been accomplished pic.twitter.com/xPvQHPFRkS
— Bigelow Aerospace (@BigelowSpace) May 28, 2016
The BEAM will be tested for two years as astronauts will enter the module three or four times a year and gather data on it’s ability to protect against solar radiation, space debris and extreme temperatures. The reason they will be entering so few times is that the BEAM has never been used in space, thus we can’t be sure how well it protects against some of space’s most harmful effects. Until we are sure of it’s capabilities, astronauts will enter only to collect necessary data and spend no more time than necessary.