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"I do think there is a link in that in both cases, writing fiction or writing a computer program, at any given moment you're focusing on a very specific and particular thing—one word, one line of code, whatever."
- Neal Stephenson

Inflatable Expansion Bubble  
  Inflatable chamber to provide temporary additional space for cramped space craft.  

Space travel in Niven's Known Space stories is best accomplished with one of the General Products hulls; however, space inside was typically very limited. Additional space for exercise or living was available in the form of inflatable expansion bubbles.

This item comes from the story Flatlander, published in 1967.

We were in the expansion bubble when it happened. The bubble had inflatable seats and an inflatable table and was there for exercise and killing time but it also provided a fine view; the surface was perfectly transparent.
From Crashlander, by Larry Niven.
Published by Del Rey in 1994
Additional resources -

The bubble itself could be unfolded without air pressure using an electromagnetic field (normally used to collapse the bubble after use).

(Thanks to Winchell Chung for suggesting this item.)

An early expression of this idea is seen in this concept from Werner von Braun in the 1950's:


(Von Braun flexible space station concept)

In a 1952 series of articles written in Collier's, Dr. Wernher von Braun, then Technical Director of the Army Ordnance Guided Missiles Development Group at Redstone Arsenal, wrote of a large wheel-like space station in a 1,075-mile orbit. This station, made of flexible nylon, would be carried into space by a fully reusable three-stage launch vehicle. Once in space, the station's collapsible nylon body would be inflated much like an automobile tire.

See also an earlier version of this idea, the airtight tent from Raymond Z. Gallun's 1951 novella Asteroid of Fear.

Compare to the space bubble from The Planet Strappers by Raymond Z. Gallun and to the Survival Bubble (Beach Ball) from Footfall (1985) by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle).

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Crashlander
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven
  Tech news articles related to Crashlander
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven

Inflatable Expansion Bubble-related news articles:
  - Genesis Pathfinder: Space Inflatable Module
  - Genesis Inflatable Space Module Gets Go-Ahead
  - Bigelow Genesis I Inflatable First Look
  - Genesis 2 Successfully Inflates Module
  - Inflatable Lofts For NASA 'Campers' On Moon And Mars
  - Bigelow's Inflatable BEAM Module Ready For ISS In 2015

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ISS Astronauts Test Estee Lauder 'Advanced Night Repair' Skin Serum
Gather Ye Moonrocks While Ye May
An Ocean On Ceres

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