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Updated: February 12, 2010 12:22 IST

Spacewalking astronauts adding space to station

AP
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In this image provided by NASA the space shuttle Endeavour is seen flying above part of North Island, New Zealand, on Tuesday, photographed by an Expedition 22 crew member onboard the International Space Station during rendezvous and docking operations with the space station.
AP
In this image provided by NASA the space shuttle Endeavour is seen flying above part of North Island, New Zealand, on Tuesday, photographed by an Expedition 22 crew member onboard the International Space Station during rendezvous and docking operations with the space station.

A pair of shuttle astronauts ventured out on a spacewalk Thursday night to help put the last big addition onto the International Space station: a new room with a heavenly bay window.

Spacewalkers Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick quickly moved over to Endeavour’s payload bay, where the new compartments were launched, and got the pieces ready for installation on the space station.

Mr. Behnken pushed out so hard and fast that Mission Control urged him to slow down a bit. His excitement was obvious. “You happy? You look happy,” Mr. Behnken, a four-time spacewalker, told his rookie partner.

The job is so big and complicated it will require three spacewalks. Thursday night’s excursion – expected to last well into the wee hours of Friday – was the first.

“Gentlemen, it’s a great day outdoors, night time right over Rio de Janeiro,” astronaut Stephen Robinson told the spacewalkers as they got started.

The new room, named Tranquility, and domed lookout represent $400 million in home improvements. The lookout, with its seven windows, including the largest ever sent into space, already has astronauts salivating over the anticipated views of Earth.

Mr. Behnken and Mr. Patrick had to wait for the 23-foot (7-meter)-long Tranquility to be anchored onto the space station before they could hook up power and data cables. The heavy lifting was going to fall to the astronauts inside who were operating the space station’s robot arm.

The plumbing will be tackled during the second spacewalk Saturday night.

The dome – which resembles a bay window 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep and nearly 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter – will be moved to its final location on Tranquility next week. Only then will the window shutters be unlocked and raised.

The central window is a circle 31 inches (79 centimeters) across. The six surrounding windows are smaller and shaped like trapezoids.

NASA readily acknowledges the observation deck and its panoramic views will improve the quality of life aboard the orbiting outpost, where astronauts spend six months at a stretch.

The Italian-designed Tranquility and dome will leave the space station 98 percent complete, with a mass of nearly 800,000 pounds (362,877 kilograms). Four other shuttle visits remain before the fleet is retired, primarily to stockpile spare station parts and supplies. NASA hopes to wrap everything up by the end of September.


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