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Fri, Jul 14, 2006

Russians Launch Inflatable Spacecraft

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 around.

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.

FMI: www.bigelowaerospace.com

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