Astronaut Jeff Williams is currently on a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station. He told Inverse in February, a few weeks before he finally rode a rocket to the space station, he wasn’t nervous. That steely resolve is probably coming in handy right now, as Williams becomes the first person to enter BEAM — an expandable habitat currently attached to the site of the ISS.
The crew aboard the space station needed two tries to successfully inflate the bouncy house, but last week the habitat finally became whole. The official line from NASA was that the failure to get BEAM to expand the first time was, though disappointing, not entirely surprising.
BEAM, developed by Bigelow Aerospace, is part of NASA’s effort to develop new kinds of systems that will make it easier to launch and deploy secure habitats in Earth’s orbit and beyond that are inexpensive to build and are almost immediately ready for human habitation. The notion of an expandable habitat in space might seem strange, but it’s a helluva lot cheaper and faster to just blow up something using air and pressure than to put it together piece by piece.
Williams will be spending his time in BEAM today initially taking air samples and ensuring the pressurization sequences was completed in full. He’ll then spend the next two days flexing his zero-gravity interior decorating skills by installing sensors that will collect data relevant to habitat’s performance — which will include information on air circulation, structural changes in response to temperature shifts, and resistance to radiation and orbital debris.
Although Williams told NASA ground control that BEAM looks “pristine,” there’s no telling what kinds of surprises might jump out. Nevertheless, he seems ready to handle whatever issues might arise, having previously told Inverse, “In this business you have to be prepared for the unexpected. So generally all of us go there a bit on our guard for anything that might pop up unexpectedly.”