We’ve had to wait quite a while but finally, one month after launching, NASA is about to inflate the first ever expandable habitat on the International Space Station (ISS).
It’s a pretty momentous event. This sort of technology may one day be used on missions to the Moon, Mars, or beyond, because inflatable modules can be launched in a compact form, saving space at launch.
All the fun is set to begin at 5.30am EDT (10.30am BST) today, when NASA starts airing footage from the ISS on NASA TV, which we’ve embedded below. Then, at 6.10am EDT (11.10am BST), the expansion is set to begin. Operations on the station are being run by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.
This habitat is called the Bigelow Expandable Aerospace Module (BEAM), developed by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace. They’ve launched two demonstration modules before (Genesis 1 and 2, in 2006 and 2007), but this is the first inflatable module to be attached to the ISS.
BEAM will remain attached to the ISS for two years, during which time astronauts will enter the module several times a year. It won’t be used for much, though; at the moment, the only plans are to install sensors inside to see how the inflatable room handles prolonged spaceflight. These sensors will monitor the temperature and radiation levels inside, while also monitoring for impacts from bits of space debris.
However, it’s still set to be a hugely important moment in the history of spaceflight. The astronauts won’t actually enter the habitat for the first time until Thursday, June 2, but make sure you tune in today to catch the start of the action.