NASA adds inflatable pod to International Space Station

Could open market for commerical human spaceflight, NASA says

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1998: Six astronauts from space shuttle Endeavour open the doors to the new international space station for the first time in orbit 250 miles above the Earth. The mission carried the U.S.-built Unity node and the crew mated it to the Russian…

Cape Canaveral, Fla. - NASA announced on Friday that it will add an inflatable module to the International Space Station. The space agency has awarded Bigelow Aerospace a $17.8 million contract to fly a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, to the station, Florida Today reports.

The module's specifications and capabilities, and the timing of the mission, were not immediately disclosed. More detail is expected during a press conference Wednesday January 16, at Bigelow's North Las Vegas headquarters.

NASA said the module would demonstrate its benefits for commercial space endeavors and future exploration missions.

"This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in a statement.

Bigelow, habitats are seen as potentially helping to open a market for commercial human spaceflight by providing destinations for private crews beyond the ISS.

Founded by Robert Bigelow, owner of Budget Suites of America hotels, Bigelow Aerospace says its expandable habitats could exceed the usable space of the ISS at a fraction of the cost. The company, that hopes to deploy the first privately operated space station, launched two prototypes in 2006 and 2007.

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