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NASA pioneers leisure space for astronauts with launch of expandable habitats

US space agency NASA is preparing to explore the feasibility of expandable habitats, or inflatable ‘space houses’, in a new mission that launches this Friday (8 April).

A spacecraft supplying the International Space Station (ISS) will take off at 4.43pm ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, loaded with research, hardware, supplies and a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will be thoroughly tested over the coming years.

The module – which will be filled with air and attached to ISS for a two-year test period – could be a means of providing valuable extra space for astronauts to kick back, relax and enjoy some leisure time during missions which take them further into space than ever before.

Expandable habitats greatly decrease the amount of transport volume for future space missions, as they are lightweight and require minimal payload volume on a rocket. Once they are deployed they can create a comfortable areas protected from solar and cosmic radiation, space debris, atomic oxygen, ultraviolet radiation and other elements of the harsh space environment.

The technology is likely to play an important role in future missions to Mars, as NASA seeks cost-effective and sustainable ways to bring an astronaut onto the surface of the Red Planet.

In a statement, the agency said: “NASA is looking at expandable habitats as one of the potential concepts for habitation capability in cis-lunar space. A successful BEAM demonstration on ISS will certainly be a giant stepping stone to understanding the role expandable structures could have for future space habitats.”

The concept has been funded through public-private partnerships with US industry and is co-sponsored by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division and Bigelow Aerospace, which pioneers innovative approaches to develop prototype systems for future human exploration missions.

If testing is successful, the BEAM could catch the interest of designers and developers determined to bring the leisure realm to the final frontier.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is one company investing in commercial space tourism. The firm’s manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company, recently unveiled the latest version of its Virgin Spaceship Unity, with four more craft set to follow.

The Russian Space Agency is planning on taking tourists to the ISS by 2018, and Boeing is also working on a planned 'space taxi' service for astronauts and tourists alike.

NASA  expandable habitats  space  astronauts  design  BEAM  International Space Station  Virgin Galactic  space houses 
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US space agency NASA is preparing to explore the feasibility of expandable habitats, or inflatable ‘space houses’, in a new mission that launches this Friday (8 April). A spacecraft supplying the International Space Station (ISS) will take off at 4.43pm ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, loaded with research, hardware, supplies and a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will be thoroughly tested over the coming years.
The inflatable Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be attached to the International Space Station for testing, and could be the leisure space of the future / Bigelow Aerospace
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