HOUSTON, May 29 (UPI) -- Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will have more room to roam after an expandable room was inflated Saturday.
Astronaut Jeffrey Williams spent more than seven hours opening and closing an air valve to expand the compartment. He reported an occasional popcorn-like popping sounds as it reached its full size but NASA controllers in Houston said that was normal.
Williams and his five crewmates will have to wait a week before entering it because NASA wants to make sure it is airtight. It will retrieve sensor data and assess conditions, according to NASA officials.
The room is officially called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM.
BEAM is a prototype that can be folded up like a parachute, making it easier to pack for a trip into space. The fully inflated BEAM module is 13 feet long and 10.5 feet wide with 565 cubic feet of living space. But before it inflates, it is 7 feet long by 8 feet wide.
Expandable habitats are less rigid than metal ones and because they are lighter, they lower the cost of sending them to space.
The new space room was built for NASA by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace. NASA paid $17.8 million for the experimental room.
BEAM arrived on April 10 aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule. After two years, it will be jettisoned by the robotic arm. It will burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.