Washington (AFP) Feb 15, 2010
Endeavour astronauts on Monday attached a windowed cupola to the International Space Station (ISS), affording its inhabitants a spectacular view of Earth, as well as additional living and work space.
The windowed dome was placed on an Earth-facing port on the Tranquility module, installed during the space shuttle mission’s first two spacewalks. A final spacewalk is set for late Tuesday (0209 GMT Wednesday).
“The International Space Station’s new viewport is facing the Earth now, ready to provide a panoramic view of the planet below and approaching cargo ships,” NASA said in a statement Monday.
The US space agency said shutters on the cupola’s seven windows would be opened Tuesday.
The windows are expected to provide a breathtaking view of space, Earth and visiting spacecraft, while the 360-degree viewing spectrum provides a vital access point for monitoring spacewalks and docking operations.
Endeavour mission specialist Kathryn Hire and pilot Terry Virts used the station’s Canadarm2 from controls in the US laboratory Destiny to install the cupola, while station commander Jeff Williams operated the latches and bolts to release the cupola from its launch location and secure it to its new home.
NASA said the Tranquility module — housing life support equipment, exercise gear and a toilet — is expected to radically improve life on the orbiting space center.
“The cupola is going to change the quality of life for astronauts who live on station because it’s going to give them a window on the world,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut, told space center workers last week.
“Just having the opportunity to float into something like the cupola and reinvigorate yourself is going to make an incredible difference to their quality of life,” he said.
The US space agency said relocation of the cupola from the Tranquility node’s forward port to its new location was completed at 1:31 am (0631 GMT) Monday.
The cupola can accommodate two people at a time and is equipped with portable workstations that can control station and robotic activities. Crew members will have a chance to peer out from the cupola windows after Tuesday’s third and final spacewalk.
The Tranquility module and its seven-pane bay window were built in Italy by Thales Alenia Space for NASA and are the last major components for the station.
Meanwhile, the rest of the six-member crew worked on replacing parts of the station’s water recycling system.
A urine processor shut down recently when a blockage disabled the unit that converts waste into clean water for the space station’s six full-time residents.
The final touches that remain to outfit the cupola include preparations for filling water lines and installing a robotics workstation there.
The spacewalkers also installed thermal covers on Tranquility to prevent condensation inside the module, and also installed a docking port and handrails.
With the new room in place, the space station is now about 90 percent complete. Endeavour is due to end its mission on February 21.
The mission, one of just five remaining for NASA’s three shuttles before the program ends later this year after a 29-year run, comes as the US space agency re-evaluates its future after President Barack Obama effectively abandoned the US plan to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020.
Constrained by soaring deficits, Obama submitted a budget to Congress that encourages NASA to focus instead on developing commercial transport alternatives to ferry astronauts to the ISS after the shuttle program ends.
The ISS, a joint project involving 16 countries, has cost around 100 billion dollars, mostly funded by the United States.
Under Obama’s new budget, the orbiting research station could see its life extended by five years until 2020.
NASA has set the next mission, by the shuttle Discovery, for March 18