On 26 and 28 May, the BEAM module for the ISS was inflated to its optimal size (16 m3). The operation was spread over two days because of the pressure being higher than anticipated on 26 May. After consultation with Bigelow Aerospace which manufactured this component, NASA gave the green light to complete the inflation on 28 May.
On 6 June, another milestone was achieved when the American Jeff Williams opened the BEAM hatch and entered inside to conduct an inspection. This module has therefore become the first inflatable item in orbit to accommodate an astronaut in shirt sleeves*. The NASA video below shows a summary of this moment.
The U.S. Agency wants to test the validity of inflatable modules because they are less voluminous to launch and according to Bigelow Aerospace, they weigh 15 % less than a traditional module. These two factors result in a lower cost for sending into orbit.?For the moment, this ìnew pieceî of the International Space Station wonít be used. For two years, measurements will be taken in order to verify whether an inflatable module can meet the safety criteria of manned space flight (airtightness, resistance to micrometeorites, radiation levels, etc.). Jeff Williams then exited the BEAM module and resealed the hatch. The astronauts will make other inspection visits.
(*) During his historic spacewalk (the first) in 1965, the Soviet Alexey Leonov used an inflatable airlock called Volga, but he was already in his space suit when he entered this.