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Why NASA is sending an inflatable house to space

The International Space Station is getting some new real estate.

NASA is sending a giant inflatable house to space this spring, testing a new type of habitat that could one day give astronauts more living room in space. Of course, this isn't your average inflatable bouncy house:

Inflated, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is a 10.5-by-13-foot capsule designed to withstand solar and cosmic radiation, space debris, atomic oxygen, ultraviolet radiation, and all the other factors that come into play in space.

Created as a space-efficient option for future deep-space missions, BEAM will be attached to the International Space Station for two years, according to NASA. During that time, astronauts will attach sensors to measure its effectiveness in the space environment.

NASA published an animation of the expandable capsule:

This is another step toward sending people to Mars

Because expandable habitats are lightweight and smaller in size, NASA hopes capsules like BEAM will eventually serve as laboratory and living spaces on missions to Mars and beyond.

BEAM is yet another experiment to prepare for the many challenges associated with sending humans more than 33 million miles away from Earth. This year, astronaut Scott Kelly came back to Earth after spending nearly a year on the International Space Station to test the effects of microgravity on the human body.

The expandable habitat was developed in partnership with commercial space technology company Bigelow Aerospace, which shared the cost of its development.

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