Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Saturday, November 17, 2007

NASA tests inflatable habitats

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
The polar regions are probably the closest environments to Mars we have on Earth. So Antarctica is a good place to test inflatable habitats:
An inflatable habitat designed for explorers on the moon or Mars is headed for an Antarctic test run, NASA said Wednesday.

The habitat – built by ILC Dover and resembling an inflatable backyard bounce for children – will make its South Pole debut early next year. NASA demonstrated the inflatable prototype on Wednesday at ILC Dover's Frederica, Del., facility.

"We deflated [and inflated] it in about ten minutes," said Larry Toups, habitat lead for NASA's Constellation Program Lunar Surface Systems Office, in an interview.

Toups and several other habitat designers from NASA's Johnson Space Center and ILC Dover will attempt to deploy the structure in the Antarctic this coming January. Their goal: to use just four people and deploy everything in four hours. Working in bulky cold weather gear will also make the deployment more analogous to the challenges facing astronauts clad in cumbersome spacesuits on the moon.

The habitat prototype will eventually serve as a multilayered test platform for new technologies such as health monitoring systems, self-healing materials, and protective radiation materials. When not inflated, the habitat can save on space and weight during transportation. It's just one of several models, including another prototype that stands on eight legs and has two pressurized cylinders connected by an airlock door, under scrutiny by NASA engineers.