NASA successfully managed to inflate and pressurize an add-on room at the International Space Station. The US space agency had aborted a first attempt two days ago after running into problems.
NASA's new addition to the International Space Station (ISS) created the first pump-up compartment for astronauts. The flexible habitat, known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), took more than seven hours to inflate, during which astronaut Jeff Williams released short blasts of air into the pod's walls using a manual valve.
After the expansion was completed, Williams opened eight air tanks inside BEAM, pressurizing the pod to a level close to the space station's setting of 14.7 pounds per square inch.
Astronauts will perform a series of tests to ensure the pod is airtight and does not leak before entering the space through the station's Tranquility module for the first time in about a week, NASA said.
"The module is fully expanded at this point and fully pressurized," NASA spokesman Daniel Huot said.
"A very successful day today with the expansion of the first expandable human-rated habitat to ever be flown into space."
The future of space travel
Experts believe that the collapsible compartment originally failed to inflate due to being packed up too tightly ahead of last month's launch, resulting in the fabric layers running into problems while unfolding due to the build-up of too much friction.
NASA paid $17.8 million (16.01 million euros) to have the inflatable chamber built, hoping that it could lead to the creation of an even bigger inflatable room at the space station. NASA says it is testing expandable habitats as an option for astronauts to use on the Moon or on a mission to Mars in decades to come.
One benefit of having expandable habitats lies in the little room they take up in spacecrafts' cargo holds while providing greater living and working space once they are inflated.
The inflatable spaces come with their own problems, however. It remains unclear how they can protect astronauts against solar radiation and extreme temperatures in space.
ss/gsw (AFP, AP)