Astronauts enter BEAM module for the first time

Astronaut Jeff Williams works inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(Credit: NASA)

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was unsealed today by the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) without incident. At 4:47 am EDT, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, with the assistance of Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, opened the hatch of the experimental habitat module as part of a two-year project to assess the technology of the inflatable unit.

Wearing goggles and filter masks as protection against any dust or debris that may have come adrift in the experimental module, Williams and Skripochka entered to take air samples. They then inspected the condition of the structure, which they described as "pristine," though cold without any signs of condensation. They also installed air ducts, and downloaded data from BEAM's onboard sensors. Having completed their tasks, Williams resealed the module as a safety precaution.

According to NASA, the astronauts will re-enter the BEAM several times on Tuesday and Wednesday to install and check additional sensors and gear. Because the module is experimental, it will remain sealed for the next two years when not being inspected and will not be used for habitation or other activities.

Built by Bigelow Aerospace, the BEAM was delivered to the space station aboard an unmanned SpaceX Dragon cargo ship that launched on April 8. It was then transferred using a robotic arm to a docking berth on the Tranquility module. On May 26, the first attempt to inflate it failed for unknown reasons, though Bigelow engineers suggest that the problem may have been due to settling after long storage before launch. It was successfully deployed after a seven hour operation on May 28.

The video below shows Williams entering the BEAM.

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