NASA Space Station to Test $17 Million Inflatable Room (Photo)

First Posted: Jan 14, 2013 02:18 PM EST

An inflatable room might do well on Earth, but can it withstand space? NASA apparently thinks it's possible. The agency has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to deliver an inflatable extension for the space station. See the photo here.

Although this technology may seem dicey when you first think about it, it has been used before. The first passive communications satellites, Echo 1 and Echo 2, could inflate themselves when they got into space. And the idea of an inflatable habitat isn't new, either.  The "Transit Habitat" was supposed to help transport crews to Mars until the project was cancelled in 2000 due to NASA budget constraints.

Bigelow itself has been working on expandable spacecraft since its founding in 1999. In 2006 and 2007, it put its first prototypes into orbit. Currently, the company offers a BA 330 habitat that can either add on to existing space stations or operate as its own entity, supporting up to six people at a time. The room comes with a view, as well; it includes four large windows so that occupants can look out into space.

It is unclear whether NASA intends to commission the BA 330 or a new habitat. However, the organization has announced that there will be a press event on Wednesday to discuss the details of their future plans.

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