ISS experimental room overinflated

2016-05-26 17:09
NASA released some air into the experimental inflatable room, but put everything on hold when problems cropped up. (NASA TV via AP)

NASA released some air into the experimental inflatable room, but put everything on hold when problems cropped up. (NASA TV via AP)

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Cape Canaveral - NASA released air into an experimental inflatable room at the International Space Station on Thursday, but put everything on hold when pressure readings crept too high.

After analysing the data for an hour, Mission Control told astronaut Jeffrey Williams to resume the test, the first of its kind in space. If all goes well, the pod will swell four times in volume and demonstrate a new way of living for astronauts.

Williams kicked everything off on Thursday morning, opening a valve that allowed air to slowly flow into the inflatable chamber, called BEAM, short for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. It's the creation of Bigelow Aerospace, founded by hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow. NASA paid the North Las Vegas company $17.8 million to test the inflatable-habitat concept at the space station.

Williams kept the valve open for just a few seconds, before closing it as ground controllers monitored the increasing pressure inside the chamber. He did that four more times before Mission Control told him to stop because of the out-of-spec pressure readings. He started up again following the lengthy delay, but once again was urged to pause.

The soft-sided, multi-layered Beam measured 2m long and nearly 2.5m in diameter when delivered to the station by SpaceX last month. It had grown just a few cm when the air-flow was paused. When fully expanded, the compartment should exceed 4m in length and 3.5m in diameter. That's the beauty of inflatable spacecraft; they can be packed tightly for launch, then expand and provide lots of room once aloft.

Bigelow Aerospace hopes to launch even bigger inflatable habitats in the future for use by tourists orbiting Earth, as well as professional astronauts bound for Mars.

Williams and his five crewmates won't venture inside BEAM - the world's first inflatable room for astronauts - until next week. It will remain sealed until then so controllers can make certain there are no air leaks in the compartment.

Read more on:    nasa  |  iss  |  us  |  space

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