The newest addition to NASAs fleet of spacecraft may be filled with air, as the agency awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to develop an inflatable extension to the International Space Station. Though it sounds a bit like sci-fi fantasy, inflatable space technology is very real, and has been in place since the ’50s–as CNET points out, the very first passive communications satellites were too large to fit on the Thor-Delta rocket, and were expanded upon arriving in space.

“This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

Bigelow has been crafting inflatable space modules since 1999, with the stated aim of “greatly [exceeding] the usable space of the International Space Station at a fraction of the cost by developing our next generation spacecraft.”

(Photo: NASA)