Astronaut Jeff Williams Enters Inflatable Room in Space
A little more than a week after NASA astronaut Jeff Williams successfully expanded a new module on the International Space Station, he and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka finally entered it on Monday morning. The expandable module, Williams told mission control in Houston, looked “pristine.”
After entering, Williams collected air sample data from the module, which was nominal. He then began to download data from three Deployment Dynamic Sensor units inside that recorded vibration data during the expansion process. Later this week, Williams will also install radiation, impact detection, and temperature sensors before closing the hatch again.
The successful expansion marks a pivotal moment for Bigelow Aerospace, which built the module and has been at the forefront of trying to commercially develop expandable space habitats. In January, the company had to lay off as much as one third of its 150 employees as it sought to pare back expenses.
However, if the small, 13-foot long new room attached to the station continues to perform well, it would give NASA and private companies confidence in the technology and could lead to additional contracts to develop much larger modules capable of serving as independent space stations. Congress is also interested in the technology because it could offer a substantially lower-cost alternative for NASA to develop deep-space habitats. Lacking a rigid structure, inflatables can be folded inside the limited diameter of a rocket fairing. Once in space, they can be expanded to create a massive amount of volume.
Eric Berger / ars technica