The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, an experimental habitat installed on the International Space Station in mid-2016, has had a surprising repurpose as of April 1.
Included with the cargo delivery on SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-10 last February was a small package of 500 miniaturized colored sponge balls, compressed and desiccated, each no larger than 1 millimeter.
Astronaut Peggy Whitson, currently aboard the space station as part of ISS Expeditions 50 and 51, unstowed the package in secret as part of her personal effects supplies, keeping that part of the cargo hidden from fellow crewmembers Robert S. Kimbrough, Andrei Borisenko, Sergey Ryzhikov, Oleg Novitskiy and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet.
Yesterday, Whitson told the crew of the surprise transformation and provided a couple of placards with simple procedures to prepare for deployment on April 1.
After opening the hatch on the experimental module and making some of the usual checks on air quality, radiation and expansion needed as part of the experiment, Whitson partially closed the hatch, leaving one end of the deployment package in the opening.
Pesquet then attached a small water gun, normally used for hydration of some foods and personal hygiene, to a small port on the package. Whitson attached a small air gun to a second port on the package. On cue, both fired their guns.
The gentle Super Soaker-like effect hydrated the small balls, expanding each from 1 millimeter to over 10 centimeters in size, or about the size of a small orange. The air then pushed the balls around, as the package expanded with the hydrating spheres.
A special release opened on the other end of the package inside BEAM once the volume of the balls exceeded the package size. Hundreds of large multicolored balls began filling the module.
“The new Bouncy Expandable Activity Module is ready for ingress, Houston,” Whitson said.
Pesquet wasted no time in testing the new recreation area, “I think the Americans would say now…’Cannonball!'” said Pesquet as he catapulted himself forward, balls flying everywhere here and there.
Whitson pulled out a small iPod touch device, selected an appropriate song from the music group Phish, and threw herself and the music device into the room, bouncing around the room.
“Bazinga!” Whitson quipped over the comm loop, as she appeared and disappeared like a Whack-a-Mole game into the cloud of balls from the perspective of the Mission Control video feed.
The new recreation area is slated to later upgrades with inflatable clowns and NERF guns sometime this summer.