Fri, Jul 14, 2006
Puffers... In... Space...
Imagine a puffer fish in space... that's pretty much what it
looks like: an experimental vehicle that lifted off from a Russian
missile base Thursday. But in reality, it could be the future of
commerce in space.
The Genesis Pathfinder I is an inflatable spacecraft developed
by Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, NV. Robert Bigelow, the
company's founder, has reportedly put a half-billion dollars on the
line for this project.
What went into space Thursday represents only about $75-million
spent so far. Genesis I is 14-feet long and, at launch, about
four-feet in diameter. But after achieving orbit 342 miles above
the Earth, the payload vehicle inflated to about twice that size
Inside the soft walls of the vehicle -- made of a Kevlar-like
graphite-fiber composite -- the temperature is a steady 79-degrees.
Several items, including insects, are floating around the interior,
monitored by several on-board cameras.
MSNBC reports that Bigelow, a real estate developer, envisions
two launches a year of progressively bigger prototypes. His
eventual goal: hotels, laboratories... even sports complexes in
space... all based on a design that NASA tossed out years ago.
That's right, the inflatable spacecraft idea is not new. It was
first suggested as the way to build a space station or a ship to
Mars. Bigelow bought the idea and commercialized it. His full-scale
Nautilus ship (below) encloses 11,650 cubic feet -- about the size
of a three-bedroom house.
Still to come... a way to get from here to there. But we imagine
Mr. Bigelow has a plan.
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