In a story that kind of reminds me of the god awful, inflatable chairs and sofas that my stoner friends had in college, NASA is taking things to the next level. Later this spring, the space agency will be sending up an experimental capsule to the ISS called the BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module). If all goes well, the new inflatable compartment will eventually be used as a guest room for visiting astronauts. Also, the compact nature of the module means that it could be used as a model for further exploration on other planets, moons, and asteroids.
Carrying the BEAM up to the ISS is none other than the SpaceX Dragon. Once there, the crew will attach it to the station’s Tranquility node. While in transport, the BEAM will be compressed to a relatively tiny 5.7 feet long and less than 7.75 feet in diameter. Once inflated however, it will be 12 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter.
If you are wondering about the fragility, the module has a multilayer skin that contains an air-sealed layer to keep the room pressurized, as well as micro-meteoroid and orbital debris (MMOD) layers to protect it from external damage.
After a one year test period, the BEAM will be jettisoned back to earth, where it will burn up in re-entry, leaving no excess garbage.