It's showtime for Robert Bigelow.
The real estate developer and hotel magnate estimates he's spent $275 million of his own fortune researching, building, and testing expandable living areas for outer space at Bigelow Aerospace, a company he founded in North Las Vegas 16 years ago.
NASA wants to see if he's right. It's paying him almost $18 million for one of his inflatable habitats to go to the International Space Station later this year.
"It's the first of its kind, and it's going to be the first module to go up onto the space station since the shuttle program," said former Space Shuttle Discovery pilot George Zamka, who now works for Bigelow.
The module being sent up on a SpaceX rocket in September is called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM. It will fit snugly onto the payload of a rocket and then, once deployed, Zamka said it will expand in less than five minutes to "the size of a medium travel trailer."