EHEH7T Las Vegas NV, USA. 12th Mar, 2015. William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations USA(L) and Robert Bigelow, president and founder of Bigelow Aerospace talks at a press conference Thursday about BEAM mission to the International Space Station.The BEAM is scheduled to launch in September this year aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station and be installed on the aft port of the station's Tranquility node. Photo by Gene Blevins/LA DailyNews/ZUMAPRESS © Gene Blevins/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News
ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo EHEH7T Las Vegas NV, USA. 12th Mar, 2015. William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations USA(L) and Robert Bigelow, president and founder of Bigelow Aerospace talks at a press conference Thursday about BEAM mission to the International Space Station.The BEAM is scheduled to launch in September this year aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station and be installed on the aft port of the station's Tranquility node. Photo by Gene Blevins/LA DailyNews/ZUMAPRESS © Gene Blevins/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

The future is now. Or, maybe the future is in a couple of years, after long-term testing and experimenting is complete. But one thing for certain is that the future is a whole lot closer than it was just a couple of years ago. Because a couple of years ago, Budget Suites of America hotel magnate Robert Bigelow decided that the future of space flight was in inflatable living modules that could be launched into space cheaply and as small packages and then inflated once in low-Earth orbit. A lot of people laughed, not just because the idea was more than a little unusual, but because Bigelow wasn’t your typical, run of the mill, Elon Musk-esque wonder boy.

But very soon, Bigelow’s inflatable pod will be making a trip to the International Space Station, aboard a rocket furnished by wonder boy Musk’s SpaceX company. There, the astronauts will grab it with the space station’s large robotic arm, attach it, and inflate it. Then they’ll test it for the next two years to see the pod’s viability as a long-term living situation for space travelers. As Popular Science’s Ryan Bradley reports: “For two years, the astronauts aboard the ISS will try to determine if the BEAM, or some larger version of it, could be habitable over the long term. They will determine leak rate, measure radiation, and examine the thermal control inside the empty module. They’ll see how the module’s soft walls stand up to the bumps and bruises in space. And they’ll do their best to figure out just what an expandable structure orbiting Earth at about 5 miles per second feels like— an impossible thing to know until it is up there.”

Bigelow will obviously be watching the data that the ISS astronauts collect very carefully, as will others. But the ISS is just one step in the hospitality mogul’s plan. It’s not world domination this powerful man is looking towards … it’s lunar domination.

Read Ryan Bradley’s full story at Popular Science.

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