NASA's Expandable Fabric Space Habitat BEAM Hits a Snag

For the first time in space, NASA attempted to inflate the habitat.

— -- NASA's plan to inflate an expandable habitat for the first time in space hit a snag today when the room -- known as BEAM -- failed to completely inflate.

Today's test at the International Space Station has been postponed after NASA spent several hours attempting to pump air into BEAM, which is short for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.

"Engineers are meeting at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss a path forward for the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module," according to a NASA update. "They are evaluating data from the expansion that has occurred thus far. If the data supports a resumption of operations, another attempt to complete the module's expansion could come as early tomorrow."

BEAM is a first-of-its-kind inflatable habitat that was carried to the ISS on the SpaceX Dragon. Ahead of today's inflation attempt, astronauts attached the room to the station's Tranquility module. BEAM has the capacity to inflate to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet in length, a NASA blog post explained.

The module is a key piece of technology that could be used on a future crewed mission to Mars.

"When we’re traveling to Mars or beyond, astronauts need habitats that are both durable and easy to transport and to set up. That’s where expandable technology comes in," a NASA blog post explained. The idea was first conceptualized by NASA in the 1990s and was built by Bigelow Aerospace.

If the BEAM module at the International Space Station is able to be properly inflated, astronauts will soon be able to step inside for several hours at a time to collect data and assess conditions inside the room. The experiment is scheduled to last for two years.

During that time, NASA plans to keep the airlock between BEAM and the space station closed.

Sensors inside BEAM monitor temperature and radiation changes, along with how it fares against potential orbital debris. If punctured, BEAM is designed to slowly deflate, ensuring that it doesn't pose a danger to the space station.

One final key part of BEAM: It's designed so astronauts should be able to easily pack it up when they're finished.