People looking to take part in NASA's "Journey to Mars" mission may soon find themselves living in inflatable quarters that will serve as their habitats once they reach the Red Planet.
The American space agency is working closely with the Nevada-based startup company Bigelow Aerospace in developing ways to provide astronauts with enough living area while in space without consuming too much storage spots on spacecraft.
The result of their partnership is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an expandable habitat technology that can easily be transported on space rockets because of its minimal payload requirement.
This inflatable space house is capable of protecting its inhabitants against the harmful effects of various elements in space such as solar, cosmic and ultraviolet radiation. It can also shield people from atomic oxygen and space debris, which often threaten anyone who tries to journey outside of Earth.
NASA hopes that the new BEAM technology will be able to provide a suitable alternative to metal-based habitats that would normally require several rocket launches in order to transport all the necessary cargo to space.
The lower volume and mass of expandable modules would allow the space agency to keep launch costs manageable and make cargo shipments to space much more efficient.
The space agency is set to launch a BEAM unit through SpaceX's eighth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Once it reaches the ISS, the module will be attached to the orbital facility's Tranquility Node using its robotic Canadarm2. It will then be filled with air to let it expand.
Astronauts will use the BEAM unit for two years in order to test its capability and overall performance as a potential space habitat. They will monitor the module's ability to protect people from radiation, space debris and micrometeroids.
They will also pay close attention on how BEAM is able to perform in the thermal environment of space to find out if it can be a viable option for use on future missions.
If the BEAM test proves to be successful, it could provide NASA with the technology that would serve as suitable housing for Moon and Mars colonists.