Big day for Bigelow Aerospace – today astronaut Jeff Williams from NASA entered, for the first time in history, into inflated experimental module attached to Tranquility ISS module.
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module was delivered in unpressurized cargo section of SpaceX Dragon during CRS-8 mission on April 10, 2016. It was remaining inside trunk of Dragon until April 16, 2016, when compressed to dimensions 1.7 m x 2.4 m and weighing 1360 kg BEAM was pulled out by Canadarm2 robotic arm and attached to aft berthing port of Tranquility module. Inflating was planned on 26th May 2016; first attempt was unsuccessful probably due the stiffness of outer shell of the BEAM which appeared due the prolonged time of storing in compressed condition. NASA decided to try again on May 28, 2016; this time almost everything went as it should, in spite of fact that Jeff Williams who was designated as operator of the BEAM, spent nine hours on opening and closing air valve and monitoring pressure inside module. BEAM was successfully inflated to its nominal dimensions: 4 meters of length and 3.2 meters in diameter. For following days for 80 hours, BEAM was under continuous monitoring if there were no leaks or problems with pressure. NASA planned first opening inflated module for today. Jeff Williams assisted by Oleg Skripochka (Roscosmos) were designated to enter BEAM for the first time. After releasing four bolts, Jeff Williams and Oleg Skripochka wearing protective masks, goggles and with headlamps entered BEAM at 08:47 GMT. First thing noticed by Jeff Williams, who entered first, was slightly higher pressure inside BEAM. Nominal pressure inside ISS is 14.7 PSI and during inflating it was slightly exceed, what was corrected by Jeff Williamson 28 May 2016; still pressure in ISS was little lower than inside BEAM . Jeff Williams also noticed that there is no condensation inside BEAM in spite of fact that temperature inside module was at 6ºC what is significantly lower than inside ISS. First task for Williams was to take air samples to verify if there are no toxic gases inside BEAM – during this task cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka was an assist. Next Williams and Skripochka left module and close hatch. Next time Jeff Williams entered to BEAM again to download data from BEAM onboard sensors for further analysis of inflating process, he checked oxygen tanks and cleaned the hatch. Next he left module and closed hatch to finish today’s task. Interior of BEAM looked like on old Science Fiction movies. It was covered with silver fabric with black stripes contoured with orange (wide for around 15 cm) placed every 40 cm- 50 cm. On the end there were installed oxygen tanks and different equipment covered with cubic silver fairings. Inside BEAM was dark because there are no light sources installed, so today BEAM was not extremely comfortable place to work in. Next entrances are planned for tomorrow and Wednesday, 7th and 8th June 2016. They are necessary to install all required sensors and equipment and again after each visit inside module will be closed. Next entrances are not scheduled for nearest future; during planned two year test program 7 or 8 entries per year are planned. During these short visits inside BEAM crew members will measure radiation and perform inspection of module focusing on looking signs of collisions with microasteroids. BEAM will not be part of any additional activity on ISS in future and will remain close during whole time of experiment.