Astronauts installed a new segment, Tranquility, and a seven-windowed cupola on the International Space Station that should give astronauts the most stunning views of Earth ever seen. When this mission ends, the core assembly tasks for the US segments of the station will be complete.
A new countdown has begun on the International Space Station: It's T-minus two days and counting – give or take a few hours – for some of the most stunning views astronauts have ever had of Earth.
By late Wednesday or Thursday, astronauts on the station should be able to open the shutters of a $27-million, seven-windowed cupola, now snugly bolted to its proper spot on a new space-station segment astronauts installed during the past week.
Both were delivered by the space shuttle Endeavour and its six-member crew during the shuttle's current mission, now at its halfway point.
The cupola in essence is the station's version of a seven-pane bay window. In its workaday role, it provides a place where crew members inside can provide an extra set of eyes to help colleagues on spacewalks. It also hosts a second set of controls the crew can use to operate the station's robotic arm.
But the cupola – nearly 10 feet across at its base and some 5 feet deep – also "is really one of the most spectacular viewing platforms that we will have had in space," says Kwatsi Alibaruho, the lead shuttle flight director for this mission. "We're eagerly awaiting the release of the shutters and the first views."
Anticipation of those first views has come after a sometimes frustrating installation effort.
Initially, the cupola was attached to one end of the new segment, Tranquility, to ensure that both elements would fit inside Endeavour's payload bay. But as astronauts worked on Sunday to loosen the bolts holding the cupola in that spot, several bolts balked.
After engineers on the ground analyzed the problem, they gave shuttle commander Jeffery Williams the OK to apply a more-forceful twist, which did the trick. In addition, loose wiring initially looked as though it might interfere with the cupola's final installation, although engineers also were able to determine that the wires posed no problem.