The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) inflatable bedroom has successfully docked to the International Space Station (ISS). This addition took place following the arrival of the module at the orbiting outpost, aboard a Dragon spacecraft.
The Bigelow module was connected to the ISS on April 16, as the orbiting outpost raced 249 miles above the southern Pacific Ocean.
Mission planners working on the space station hope that inflatable modules will provide additional area in which space travelers may operate and live. Such structures take up significantly less space on rockets than firm-walled designs. Residents of the station will test how the module stands up to impacts from space debris, extreme temperature fluctuations and blocks radiation. This addition marks the first test of an inflatable habitat on the ISS.
In May 2016, BEAM will be fully inflated, expanding the module to full size.
"Astronauts will enter BEAM on an occasional basis to conduct tests to validate the module's overall performance and the capability of expandable habitats. After the testing period is completed, BEAM will be released from the space station to eventually burn up harmlessly in the Earth's atmosphere," NASA officials wrote on their website.
A human mission to Mars currently scheduled for the 2030's will depend on significant payloads of equipment and supplies arriving at the Red Planet before space travelers undertake the journey. Mission planners hope that expandable modules like BEAM will provide enough storage room to carry supplies for the journey, while reducing the number of needed trips to Earth orbit.
"Crews will routinely enter to take measurements and monitor its performance to help inform designs for future habitat systems... If BEAM performs favorably, it could lead to future development of expandable habitation structures for future crews traveling in deep space," NASA officials stated.
During the testing period, space travelers will enter the BEAM module three or four times each year, staying in the inflatable room for a few hours each time.
When packed for launch, the BEAM module was just over seven feet in length, and almost eight feet in diameter. This expands to 13 feet long and over 10 feet in diameter when fully installed. It will remain connected to the space station for a total of two years as researchers carry out a number of experiments on the new addition.