Endeavour Installing a Room with a View
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Endeavour's astronauts will start winding up construction on the U.S. side of the International Space Station Friday, opening a new wing with an observation deck that will offer panoramic views of the universe.
Scheduled to put in place during a crane operation overnight Thursday, the U.S. Tranquility module - shaped like a soda can - is the last major American addition to the station, now 98 percent complete. Its placement winds up 11 years of U.S. construction work on the outpost, which the U.S. has spent more than $50 billion building.
The bus-sized vessel will provide a central home for U.S. station life support systems. It also will be an exercise room.
But Tranquility's unique feature is the Italian-built Cupola, a domed-shaped annex with seven windows and a 360-degree view.
"Cupola is going to be probably the best set of windows that's ever flown in space on any program in the history of spaceflight," said Endeavour mission specialist Nicholas Patrick.
Added crewmate Steve Robinson: "We will have the most spectacular view of the Earth anyone's ever had from the inside of the station."
Launched on Monday from Kennedy Space Center, the Tranquility module was funded by the European Space Agency as part of a barter agreement with the U.S.
The agreement called for the U.S. to launch the European Columbus laboratory to the station. In return, the Europeans built the U.S. Harmony module and the U.S. Tranquility module.
The Europeans also are supplying lab equipment and hosting U.S. experiments in Columbus, launched in February 2008.
Italian aerospace companies built the Tranquility module and the Cupola, which was launched under a separate agreement. Under the pact, the U.S. is launching and returning European experiments.
Twenty-three-feet long and 15-feet-wide, Tranquility was named after the lunar site where Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in 1969.
Together with the Cupola, Tranquility weighs about 33,000 pounds and cost about $400 million.
The cylindrical module was to be hoisted out of the shuttle's cargo bay Thursday and installed on the port side of the station's U.S. Unity module.
The module will house:
- A U.S. oxygen generation machine, a carbon dioxide scrubber, an air revitalization system and a water reclamation system.
- A new treadmill and a resistive exercise device that is the low Earth orbit equivalent of a weight machine.
The Cupola will serve as a space station traffic control tower.
A work station within it will enable astronauts to control the outpost's 57.5-foot Canadian robot arm.
Astronauts in the Cupola will be able to monitor the approach of cargo carriers and crew transports and use the station's robot arm to moor them safely at the outpost.
The Endeavour mission is the 32nd shuttle flight launched in the assembly of the station, the first two building blocks of which were linked in Earth orbit in late 1998.
For the U.S., it's the end of an 11-year era of station construction. Four remaining shuttle missions are devoted to outfitting the outpost.
"What this mission symbolizes, I think, in a lot of ways, it's like the Transcontinental Railroad. And our flight is kind of like putting the golden spike in the Transcontinental Railroad," shuttle pilot Terry Virts said.
The railroad opened up the American West.
The station is opening a new frontier.
"It's the end of one phase," Virts said, " ... but the beginning of something much bigger."