With a name like 'Space Walk' you can imagine how thrilled we were to hear NASA is sending inflatables to outer space. For you, inflatables may call to mind childhood playtime and summer parties. When NASA Space Architect Kriss Kennedy sees an inflatable, however, he sees the solution to a space travel problem:
'How do you fit a livable environment for space travel into the limited cargo space of a rocket ship?'
Inflatables Amongst the Stars
The impetus for creating this inflatable is simple: to get mankind to Mars. The problem with using the traditional metals found in spacecrafts is that they have to be built to fit the rocket cargo space, and if using traditional materials, the size of the environment would not be tenable for a full crew of astronauts.
To fit in the cargo space and still provide astronauts with enough room to stay sane during their travels to the Red Planet (harder than it sounds), an inflatable module has been constructed by Bigelow Aerospace.
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM)
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is cylindrical in shape and made out of several layers of materials resistant to micrometeorites, such as Kevlar. Deflated and folded, the BEAM is 6 feet by 6 feet, while inflated its maximum size is 12 feet by 10 feet, which is as big as an RV.
The BEAM will be taken on a SpaceX resupply spacecraft to the ISS where it will then be attached to the station's Tranquility node. Astronauts will then expand the BEAM to its full size using air packed within the module and a pressurized system. The module can be fully inflated in as fast as four minutes, though as a precaution, it will be slowly inflated over the course of several hours.
For two years, the BEAM will be attached to the ISS. Astronauts will check up on the BEAM regularly and note how the habitat performs. The crews are not expected to sleep in the BEAM. After the two years of testing, the space station's robotic arm will detach the module from the Tranquility node and allow the BEAM to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.
If inflatables are shown to perform well in space, the future of space travel is limitless. Can you picture the fun of inflatable obstacle courses on Mars? Imagine how high you could jump if you were 60% lighter!
Photos from: Space.com