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 distinct lack of personal space. Crews are packed into phone booth-sized beds. They are struck by continuous light, sound and surveillance. But if things go right during a SpaceX resupply mission this spring, the station could soon be a bit roomier and more relaxing.
 

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, or BEAM.  With it, the future of housing might just change forever.
 
The module is 13 feet long.  It is being referred to by Bigelow Aerospace and NASA as 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 uninflated, but 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. He is director of D.C. operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace. BEAM isn't intended to be used as living quarters, he notes. Rather, it will serve as a proof of concept for expandable habitats.
 
Gold sees another benefit to the module. It will provide a little 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 relief from the always-on environment of the bigger station? Right now, it'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, stowage and other activities. After all, 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 that 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 source of speculation and sometimes mockery since he launched the company. He launched it in 1998.
 
That moniker irritates Gold. He calls it a "pernicious misconception." Gold says tourism is just a portion 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.
 
TransHab turned out to be just a pipe dream.  The project's funding was cut in 2000. It literally 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, research and development. It also could be used for astronaut training.
 
Unlike BEAM, the B330, named for its 330 cubic meters of internal space, is a completely independent module. It doesn't need to hook up to the International Space Station. And 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 for $25 million for exclusive use of a school bus-sized space 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. Perhaps it will be more lucrative and realistic once the company's ambitious Olympus project, named for its godly 2,100 cubic meters of space, is complete.
 
There are still challenges to be addressed. Right now, the company relies on commercial resupply missions to the space station 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, a dependable vehicle that 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 in structures like Bigelow's Olympus. Some may flee Earth due to overpopulation. There's an 80 percent probability that the world's population will grow to around 11 billion by the end of this century, and there are no signs of slowing.
 
And then there's the cool factor. Some people may find that they simply prefer to live in microgravity surrounded by amazing views of planets and stars all the time.
 
But commercial space projects are subject to funding issues, delays and development traffic jams, all of which could send the most optimistic predictions for the future of travel and housing tumbling back to Earth. And for every futuristic habitat success, there are scores of stalled or vastly altered projects.
 
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 (69)
  • paytong-
    4/07/2016 - 11:11 a.m.

    Why don't we just have computers running the space stations because we have robots that can do it.

  • jeremiahy-612-
    4/08/2016 - 08:35 a.m.

    The international space station lacks personal space because of its phone booth sized beds and a very small living area.

  • willb-612-
    4/08/2016 - 08:52 a.m.

    It stated the "The International Space Station is known for a distinct lack of personal space. Crews are packed into phone booth-sized beds. They are struck by continuous light, sound and surveillance."

  • lyrics-612-
    4/08/2016 - 02:23 p.m.

    The International Space Station lacks personal space because crews have to sleep in phone booth sized beds. They are also constantly hit by light and sound.

  • mollym2011-
    4/11/2016 - 11:15 a.m.

    I would recommend this article to another student in the class because it shows that living in space is now possible. The international Space Station seems to lack in space because of all the equipment packed in, but when the BEAM is attached onto the station, there will be more room for astronauts and tourists to relax. Some people may like living in space, but other may find it safer on earth. I think I would like to stay on earth.

  • mar'quiseh-fra
    4/11/2016 - 01:13 p.m.

    It does because all that equipment and the equipment is in space so it's just going to be floating around in the space station.

  • davidc-obr
    4/11/2016 - 01:33 p.m.

    The reason that the International Space Station lacks personal space is that its not big enough to fit full bedrooms and have room for the equipment too. Also its that they have booth sized bedrooms that the person must strap themselves into which they will have to sit in insted of laying down. It also might be that if one was to jump forward they might slam into the one across from them. Also its that there bathroom has just a curtain to hide you. That is also unhelpful for doing your own thing with out someone knowing what exactly you're doing.

  • stevend-obr
    4/11/2016 - 01:34 p.m.

    Why does the international space station lack personal space? The international space station lacks space because they have beds the size of phone booths. Also because there is a lot of noise and sound. When and if supplies are sent up it will make it roomier. This is called the SpaceX resupply mission.

  • davidm-obr
    4/11/2016 - 01:34 p.m.

    Astronauts lack personal space because the astronauts are in tiny booths the size of a phone booths which are very small and are cramped . Another reason that astronauts lack personal space is that they are in a place with astronauts while being in a small station in space floating around earth at a very fast speed. They also lack it because there is no room where they can get peace and quiet that could help them decompress their minds which they probably need to have happen. NASA is planning on sending an expansion to the ISS which is quite and makes the space station bigger and roomier. I think that they're using ths expansion as a room to have astronauts get their minds back together if they are stressed or crazy.

  • albrimz-obr
    4/11/2016 - 02:38 p.m.

    I will tell you why the International Space Station lacks personal space. First of all their size of their bed is a telephone booth. They are also "struck by continuous lights, sounds and surveillance." I would never go up there if there was barely any room. That is why the International Space Station lacks in personal place.

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