Although they are often perceived as a relic from the 18th century, inflatable balloons actually helped launch the Space Age. And in the following decades of space exploration, inflatable devices have played numerous, albeit episodic roles, mostly in the shadow of traditional "hard-body" spacecraft.
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During the 1990s, NASA's Johnson Space Center, come close to launching a manned inflatable module dubbed TransHab. Conceived as the living quarters of a Mars-bound spacecraft, Transhab was designed to ride to the ISS on the Space Shuttle.
After the cancellation of the TransHab project, Nevada-based firm Bigelow Aerospace licensed NASA's engineering heritage in the field, in the hope of building an orbital hotel for space tourists and commercial researchers. It would be assembled of several inflatable modules.
Almost half a century after Aleksei Leonov floated into open space through an inflatable airlock, the company that built his spacecraft started work on future expandable structures, which one day can become space station modules or even serve as shelters on the surface of the Moon and Mars.
From 2013 to 2015, Russian industry worked on the prototype of an inflatable space module scaled down three times from the planned flight-worthy vehicle. With a total volume of 16 cubic meters, the model would be used for various tests before the full-scale inflatable module would be built.