Astronauts take us inside the space station’s new inflatable room for the first time

After a few problems getting it inflated, astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Monday had their first opportunity to enter the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).

Installed on the space station’s Tranquility node, the inflatable pod could one day provide extra living and work space for astronauts on missions into deep space.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams opened the hatch to the ISS’s brand new room early Monday. But banish from your mind any thoughts of home comforts and appealing decor – the BEAM habitation system is a test module to see how its design and technology functions in space.

Williams entered the module with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka to collect an air sample and start downloading data from sensors on the dynamics of BEAM’s expansion, NASA said.

Broadcast live on NASA TV, the American astronaut told Mission Control in Houston that the living pod looked “pristine,” adding that it felt cold inside. And following its problematic inflation last week, Williams was happy to report that there was no evidence of any condensation on BEAM’s inner surfaces or any other visible issues.

BEAM’s technology could one day be used to build larger rooms for missions into deep space. Its light weight and compact transportation size – it expanded to 4 meters (13 feet) long and 3.2 meters (10.5 feet) in diameter, about five times its original size – makes it an attractive system for private space companies interested in making manned trips to faraway places such as Mars, something SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes could happen within 10 years.

The inflatable pod is made with several layers of tough fabric, including a bullet-resistant polymer called Vectran, which its engineers say should be able to withstand hazards such as space debris, extreme temperatures, and radiation. Tests and data gathered from the module over the next two years will give its designers precise information on its durability and effectiveness in a space environment, allowing them to make any necessary changes to improve its design.

Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace developed and built the module with some investment coming from NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

The plan is to build larger versions of the BEAM module. Bigelow recently announced a collaboration with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop a much bigger pod that could launch aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket in 2020. This particular design is expected to be around 30 percent of the ISS’s volume, and is likely to include technology that could one day allow it to operate as a self-sufficient orbiting outpost.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

Rocket Lab steps into spotlight with its first commercial rocket launch

Rocket Lab has deployed multiple small satellites into orbit in its first notable commercial launch. Its New Zealand-born boss said the success means "rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites."
Photography

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.
Smart Home

This alarm clock uses targeted light and sound to wake you, but not your partner

The Wake v2 isn't like your typical bedside alarm. Instead, it wakes you by shining a soft light directly into your face, thereby not disturbing the person sharing a bed with you. Pretty smart, huh?
Emerging Tech

Believe it or not, this fire-proof exoskeleton isn’t designed for space marines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.
Emerging Tech

Intel’s new ‘neural network on a stick’ aims to unchain A.I. from the internet

To kick off its first developer conference in Beijing, Intel unveiled the second generation of its Neural Compute Stick -- a device that promises to democratize the development of computer vision A.I. applications.
Emerging Tech

Frogs regrow ‘paddle-like’ limbs when placed in a bioreactor

Frogs have partially regrown amputated limbs thanks to a bioreactor at Tufts University. By jump-starting tissue repair, the bioreactor helped the amphibians regenerate a bigger, more complete appendages than they usually do.
Emerging Tech

China says it has developed a quantum radar that can see stealth aircraft

Chinese defense giant China Electronics Technology Group Corporation claims that it has developed a quantum radar that's able to detect even the stealthiest of stealth aircraft. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Glass orb packs all the constellations in the night sky into fancy desk ornament

Ever wanted to know more about the star constellations? A stunning new Kickstarter campaign, taking the form of a fancy desk ornament that re-creates the night sky in a glass orb, aims to help.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX makes rocketry look easy, sticks yet another Falcon 9 landing

SpaceX is due to perform its latest Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing on November 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Here's how you can watch the proceedings live.