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How NASA will use Bigelow’s privately built ISS module

Not much it seems. The key paragraph is this:

Once installed, BEAM will be largely sealed off from the rest of ISS, with astronauts entering it every four to six months to retrieve data from sensors inside it. Crusan suggested NASA will consider making greater use of the module over time as the agency becomes more comfortable with its performance. That would require additional work inside the module, he said, since it has no active life support system beyond some fans.

This story illustrates NASA’s sometimes incredibly over-cautious approach to new technology. I grant that space is difficult and that it is always wise to be careful and to test thoroughly any new technology, but NASA sometimes carries this too far. For example, it took NASA more than two decades of testing before it finally approved the use of ion engines on a planetary mission (Dawn). Similarly, inflatable modules were abandoned by NASA initially, and wouldn’t even exist if a private company, Bigelow, hadn’t grabbed the technology and flown it successfully.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • geoffc

    And Bigelow has two modules in orbit for years now (Genesis 1 and 2). Sure they are end of life, but they collected longish term data on leak rates, and other issues that would concern NASA. This is silly level of safety.

  • Bill Gerstenmaier said NASA would be doing extensive engineering tests on the new module. They were going to leave it up to the crew as to how it wanted to use the module when tests weren’t being done. He said it might be a place for the crew to gather. Using it would involve bringing in some air ducts because there is no separate life support on BEAM.

    It’s really an engineering test of the technology. And it’s being done at a very low cost to NASA and Bigelow.

  • Edward

    I keep imagining that BEAM will be used largely for long-term storage (e.g. disused experiments that don’t fit into the limited space of returning cargo carriers, such as Obital ATK’s Cygnus). This may seem like a waste of space, but it could free up room in the rest of the station for more useful items or items more frequently used.

    Although such use does not add as much experience as continuous manned presence in the module would, it still adds to the knowledge base of the concept’s safety under actual operating conditions.

    As geoffc points out, the unmanned versions already flown have provided some data, but now data under actual manned conditions is needed. Another stepping stone toward what we hope is an inexpensive yet useful piece of hardware for our future in exploring and pioneering space.

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