Space Station Inflatable Habitat Will Get Blown Up On Thursday

Inflated, that is

Illustration of BEAM installed on the International Space Station
Illustration of BEAM installed on the International Space StationBigelow Aerospace

An expandable habitat that might eventually help humankind colonize the Moon and Mars will begin testing on the International Space Station this week. Astronauts will start pumping air into the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module at 5:30 AM on Thursday. You can watch the process right here:

At its full size, the puffed-up habitat will be about the size of a small bedroom. For the next two years, sensors will measure how well the structure maintains safe temperature, pressure, and radiation levels. Astronauts will go inside it occasionally, too.

If the inflatable habitat concept holds water (er, air), it could make it cheaper and easier to send large habitats into space. The structures would fold down into a compact, relatively lightweight package for the rocket ride into space, then pop open to full size when they reach their destinations.

At 3pm on 5/23/2016 this post was updated to correct the deployment time.