Why NASA blew up a space habitat in Texas.


When a future house for astronauts explodes, a celebration might seem inappropriate, but engineers at a commercial space company couldn’t be prouder of their shredded outer space house.

Sierra Space, working on one of three NASA contracts to develop commercial space stations, just completed something called the “Ultimate Burst Pressure” test on a mockup of its low-Earth orbit space dwelling. The LIFE habitat, short for Large Inflatable Flexible Environment, could one day serve as rooms on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space station, Orbital Reef. If all goes well, the companies hope to start building the station in 2026.

But first NASA has to run the structure through a gauntlet to ensure it’s safe for humans.

The inflatable house was pumped to its breaking point on July 9 to find out the maximum internal pressure it could withstand before failing. The test was recorded on video from various angles at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The company released footage of the demonstration this week.

Turn up the video below for the aural experience.

“Some news outlets thought ‘blow up’ meant inflate,” Alex Walker, a spokesman for Sierra Space, told Mashable. “No, ‘blow up’ means explode.”

The team was thrilled to learn the house didn’t pop until it reached 192 pounds per square-inch (psi), exceeding the safety requirement of 182.4 psi.

For context, the International Space Station, like airplanes, is pressurized so that the people onboard can breathe. The space laboratory has an internal pressurized volume equal to that of a Boeing 747. The normal cabin pressure is 14.7 pounds per square-inch, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Sierra Space is working with Blue Origin on developing a commercial space station with a NASA contract. Credit: Sierra Space

NASA awarded a $130 million contract to Blue Origin for the commercial space station as the U.S. space agency tries to transition to a model in which businesses own and operate destinations in low-Earth orbit and NASA becomes one of many customers who live and work in them. NASA hopes this shift will drop the cost of doing orbital science so it can focus on its human exploration missions to the moon and perhaps Mars.

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