Blow-up rafts are just the thing for lounging at the pool, blow-up beds for a houseful of guests. But a blow-up spacecraft?
It may sound more “Jetsons” than “Right Stuff,” but NASA is about to put the idea to the test. The space agency is poised to launch an inflatable compartment to the International Space Station, an orbiting laboratory home to a crew of six. After astronauts fill the new structure with air, it will swell from a bundle eight feet wide into a compartment nearly as big as a one-car garage.
The station crew will only run tests on the module rather than spend time inside it, at least in the beginning. But its flight is still a significant milestone, observers say.
“It’ll be the first time human beings will actually step inside this expandable habitat in space,” says retired astronaut George Zamka, who has worked for Bigelow Aerospace, the company that built the module. “It’ll feel pretty beefy. … There won’t be this sense of it being like a balloon.”
Nor will it be easy to puncture, according to engineers. The fully inflated room will have thick walls built of multiple layers of fabric and Kevlar-like material. Space junk won’t penetrate, NASA’s Rajib Dasgupta said.
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