NASA is constantly finding new and creative ways to maximize space on their missions. Their latest innovation, as reported by Gizmodo, is a 5.5-foot long addition to the International Space Station that is capable of expanding to 12 feet in length.

When the SpaceX Dragon makes its next supply trip to the ISS in April, it will be carrying along the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM. After the room is attached to the station's rear port via its robotic arm, astronauts will be able to inflate it to over twice its size in approximately 45 minutes.

The fully expanded BEAM will provide an additional 565 cubic feet of volume to the ISS crew. But it won't be used as a space for lounging: Astronauts are scheduled to make only four brief trips to the module, during which they'll test it for temperature, radiation protection, and overall performance. After its two-year lifespan is up, it'll be detached from the station and released into space. You can watch an animation of the module being installed in the video above.

While this type of technology is still new, it could have future applications in building expandable habitats on the Moon or even Mars. Another way to save cabin space on missions into deep space would be to bring 3D printers on board and print parts from materials harvested during the mission. This reality may not be too far off: Just last week, NASA delivered a high-tech 3D printer to the ISS that astronauts can use to make aerospace grade goods on site.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Header/banner images courtesy of NASA via YouTube.