As giant leaps go, it was a little tentative. But when you are entering an inflatable room attached to the International Space Space (ISS) travelling at almost five miles per second with no more protective gear than a flimsy face mask, it is perhaps best to check all the sensors and warning displays first.
Jeff Williams, an American astronaut, told Nasa’s mission control that the flexible habitat – known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) – looked “pristine” and was cold inside after entering to begin a two-year series of tests.
Col Williams opened the module’s door before entering with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka to take an air sample, collect data from sensors and check air ducts.
Astronauts will enter the module again on Tuesday and Wednesday to test sensors and equipment, said Nasa.
They will close the door to the module, which first docked at the ISS in April, after each visit.
Astronauts are expected to re-enter the module several times a year throughout the two-year test to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions inside the unit, including how well it protects against space radiation, the US space agency said.
— Jessica Meir (@Astro_Jessica) June 6, 2016
Bigelow Aerospace developed the first-of-its-kind habitat as part of an $18 million contract with Nasa. The company has an eye on eventually using its inflatable technology to build hotels in space.
The benefit of expandable habitats lies in the little space they take up in spacecrafts’ cargo holds while providing greater living and working space once inflated.
But key questions that remain to be answered include how well such pods would protect people against solar radiation, debris and the temperature extremes of space.
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