We thought we’d be living in space (or under giant domes) by now A proposed space colony designed by NASA researchers in the 1970s. (NASA Ames Research Center/Courtesy Bigelow Aerospace)
We thought we’d be living in space (or under giant domes) by now
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The International Space Station is known for a clear lack of personal space. Crews are packed into phone booth-sized beds. They are hit by nonstop light, sound and surveillance. But the station could soon be a bit roomier. It also may be more relaxing. That's if things go right during an upcoming SpaceX resupply mission. 
 

After the Dragon capsule reaches the station, the ISS's robot arm will pull out a device. It's called the Bigelow Aerospace Expandable Activity Module. It is better known as BEAM.  With it, the future of housing might just change forever.
 
The module is 13 feet long. Bigelow Aerospace and NASA are calling it an "expandable habitat." But to the average viewer, it will look more like a big white balloon. Think of it as a kind of spare room.  Only this one will cost NASA a cool $17.8 million. BEAM will arrive in space uninflated. It will blow up once it's attached to one of the station's nodes. That will create a new, if not entirely expansive section of the ISS.
 
"I jokingly refer to it as a largish New York apartment," says Mike Gold. New York apartments are known for being small. Gold is director of D.C. operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace. BEAM isn't intended for use as living quarters, he notes. Instead, it will serve as a proof of concept for expandable habitats.
 
Gold sees another benefit to the module. It will provide a bit of peace and quiet. 

"Acoustically, it's going to be the quietest location aboard the International Space Station," he says. Will astronauts use it as a break from the always-on environment of the bigger station? That's unclear. In a release, NASA says only that the station will be measured and tested over time. 

Gold thinks the module has the potential as a place for science experiments. It could also be used for stowage and other activities. The concept has been tested before. In 2006 and 2007, the company launched the Genesis I and II missions. Expandable habitats headed into orbit via converted Russian ICBMs.
 
The limited plans for the habitat are a far cry from the "space hotel" label. It has long been associated with the company. Bigelow Aerospace is owned by hotelier and real estate mogul Robert Bigelow. His plans to take his empire to space have been the topic of rumors since he launched the company. He launched it in 1998.
 
That space hotel moniker irritates Gold. He calls it a "pernicious misconception." Gold says tourism is just part of the company's long-term plan. The term has been in use since the module that inspired Bigelow Aerospace's current projects. It is a NASA-designed inflatable crew quarters project. It's known as TransHab.
 
But TransHab turned out to be just a pipe dream. The project's funding was cut in 2000. It never left the ground. Bigelow snatched up NASA's patent rights. He used them to develop the technology.
 
If BEAM isn't a space hotel, the company's next project sure seems like one. Now that BEAM is ready to deploy, the company is perfecting the B330. It's an even larger expandable habitat. It could be used for housing. It could also be used for research and development. And it could be used for astronaut training.
 
The B330 got its name for its 330 cubic meters of internal space. But unlike BEAM, it is a completely independent module.  It doesn't need to hook up to the International Space Station. It can support a crew of up to six. 

B330s can even be hooked up to one another. They could form free-floating commercial stations like Alpha Station. Alpha is a proposed space station. Bigelow Aerospace claims it could help nations develop their astronaut corps, perfect space travel and conduct research.
 
On its website, the company says it will offer things like one-off astronaut flights. The cost will be $26.75 million to $36.75 million per seat. The company also may lease space station space. The cost will be $25 million for exclusive use of a school bus-sized space.  The lease would be over a two-month period. The naming rights to Alpha Station will cost about $25 million a year. Gold downplays the idea of space tourism. But he doesn't discount it entirely.
 
There are still challenges. Right now, the company relies on commercial resupply missions to get its smaller modules into orbit. Those missions are launched by companies like SpaceX.

However, commercial rockets are small. Many don't have enough power to launch the 20-ton B330. Bigelow notes that it designed that unit to fly on an Atlas V rocket.  The Atlas V is a dependable vehicle. It has a launch capacity of just over 40,000 pounds. 

To get its more ambitious habitats off the ground, Bigelow Aerospace will probably need a rocket like NASA's upcoming Space Launch System, or SLS. The SLS will have an eventual lift capacity of 286,000 pounds.
 
Are expandable space stations (hotels or otherwise) the buildings of the future? Perhaps. Some people may ditch the idea of space tourism and become full-time space residents. Perhaps they would live in structures like Bigelow's Olympus. 

Some may flee Earth due to overpopulation. There's an 80 percent chance that the world's population will grow to around 11 billion. That could occur by the end of this century.
 
And then there's the cool factor. Some people may find that they simply prefer to live in microgravity surrounded by great views of planets and stars all the time.
 
Commercial space projects are prone to funding issues. They also see delays and development traffic jams. Any of those could send the most optimistic predictions for the future of travel and housing right back to Earth. And for every futuristic habitat success, there are many projects that have stalled. Or they have been greatly changed.
 
What do you think the future of living in space will look like?

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does the International Space Station lack personal space?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (51)
  • josephh1-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:05 a.m.

    The International Space Station lacks personal space because the astronauts aboard are packed into phone booth-sized beds. Also, they are hit by nonstop light, sound and surveillance.
    So, they barely have any quiet time onboard, or not enough space to perform daily actions.

  • shakiral1-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:06 a.m.

    I think the ISS lacks personal space because being small has kept it more efficient. Also making it bigger you would have to spend more money finding something that has enough power to launch bigger rockets. Also maybe because there really isn't nothing you can do in space so it would cost more money (which they dont have an unlimited supply of) to make the Iss bigger to just sit around and do nothing.

  • marquezc-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:07 a.m.

    i think the living in space would be a little crazy. Anything could go wrong. If anything bad happens you could probably die. There would be too many people flaoting around. Also you are barely in control of where your going.

  • latriciaj-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:08 a.m.

    I think the future of living in space would look like a bunch of people just floating around. There is no gravity in space. Alot of people in my opinion would perfer to stay on the moon because they are adbventurous and just take any kind of adventure that they can. If some do go as the story says they would prefer to live in microgravity surrounded by great views of planets and stars all the time. Living on space would be cool and awesome but it would also scare me alittle because im light and no gravity would just make me float away more than a normal person.

  • chaykial-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:08 a.m.

    That the moulde is 13 feet longe. There is 330 cubic meters or interals space. The world biggest populasion will grown to about like 11 billons of money. There will be there 286,0000 pound of sls. The word is called space lauch system. To go to a diffent country it will cost you to about 26.75 millon or to like 36.75 millons of dollars.

  • christopherm2-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:10 a.m.

    I think the furture of liveing in space woild look like a bunch of people liveing in one big community and the population will get lager than it need to be.

  • ravenl1-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:14 a.m.

    Becuase the International Space Station needed more space so, they need the space to look better and that the people can do what they gotta do. Also, It might change the International Space Station forever. Maybe the Alpha Station could help develop the perfect space travel and astronaut crops. I think it's better for people to have the perfect space becuase the International Space Staion needed whats best for future.

  • jimmyl-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:15 a.m.

    Because it would be crowded all the homes are aparments would be jammed together.Also they said the aparments would be small cause they was refering to the new york aparments and how small they was so if you would live there you would be in a small aparment and they would be jammed up together so I dont think they should keep doing this its A bad idea in my opinion

  • elijahm-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:16 a.m.

    The international space station is known for lack of personal space. The BEAM is a moudle that is 13 feet long and looks like a white ballon. this is worth 17.8 millon dollars cause it will create a new expansive section for the ISS. gaold thinks that this thing can fit in science experiments it is already associated with companies.In 2006 and 2007 the comany launched genisis 1 and mission 2. Habitats headed into orbit via converted into Russian ICBMs. there is also another thing called the B330 that got its name from 330 cubic meters.It could be used for research and development can also be used for astronaut training.

  • haleyl-rob
    4/07/2016 - 10:18 a.m.

    The module is 13 feet long. NASA and Aerospace calls it a hibitate but whenever it's in the air it looks like a big balloon although this big "balloon" will cost NASA a big $17.8 million dollars. Men refer the module to a New York appartment room mainly because New York rooms tend to be small. the module will arrive in space uninflated it will blow up once it's attached to one of the station's nodes. The crews are packed onto small phone-booth sized beds and are hit with nonstop light the station could soon be a bit more roomier also a bit more relaxing only if things go right during a upcoming SpaceX resupply.

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