Astronauts Tackle Glitch With Space Station's New Room

Space Station Gets New Room, Windows in Spacewalk
The International Space Station's new Tranquility node takes center stage in this view taken during an overnight spacewalk on Feb. 10, 2010 by STS-130 astronauts Robert Behnken and Nick Patrick. Here, the module is already installed on the ISS. The Cupola dome can be seen in the foreground. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

Astronauts have run into their first big glitch with theInternational Space Station?s brand-new room, one that may delay plans for openingits long-awaited observation deck.

An insulation cover for the $382 million module?s end capdoesn?t fit properly and is vital to protect the new Tranquilitymodule once the window-lined observation deck there is moved to its finalperch.

?When we remove a module and expose it to space, you wantsome kind of protection,? said space station flight director Bob Dempsey earlySaturday.

The insulation is a round, multilayered fabric covering installedwith buckles and four fold-down bars to lock it in place. Astronauts could notswing those bars fully into place because pieces of metal securing handrailsand other tools in place in the dome-shaped window unit were in the way.

The observation deck, a $27.2 million addition, is knownas the Cupola. It has six petal-like windows arranged around a round centralpane that is the largestspace window ever launched.

It arrived with the Tranquility module aboard the spaceshuttle Endeavour. They were installed earlier this week in a spacewalkand opened late Friday night.

Astronauts planned to move the observation deck next weekto an Earth-facing spot on the bottom of Tranquility, where it would give astronautsa panoramic view of the planet below.

Dempsey said engineers are now considering whether tomove the observation deck without the insulation cover on the end ofTranquility or to leave it place for the remainder of Endeavour?smission and send a new fitted cover on the next shuttle flight, which willlaunch in mid-March.

The end of Tranquility wouldn?t be exposed for long,Dempsey said. A cone-shaped adapter will be moved to cover it after theobservation deck is installed.

There is also a concern that the same obstructionpreventing the insulation cover?s installation could interfere with the Cupola?smove to its final lookout perch.

Engineers are studying that possibility too, Dempseysaid.

?When you have interference like this that you didn?texpect, there?s always that question in your mind that you have to go analyze,?he added.

The Tranquility module and observation deck,called the Cupola, are NASA's last major additions for the space station. Theyare attached to the left side of the station's central Unity node.

With them installed, the space station is now98 percent complete and weighs nearly 800,000 pounds (362,873 kg). The $100billion spacestation has been under construction since 1998 and is the result ofcooperation by 16 different countries.

After opening the new room, astronauts swiftlygot to work loading it with gear. It was dark and sometimes stuffy ? the moduleis not fully activated yet ? but the astronauts managed to move a bulkyexercise machine inside and began outfitting the room for permanent use.

?It?s great to see it up here in space,?Endeavour astronaut Kathryn Hire said in a series of interviews televised onNASA TV. ?We?re filling it up very quickly.?

While engineers on Earth study the Cupolaconcerns, Endeavour?s six-astronaut crew and the five spaceflyers on the spacestation are gearing up for their mission?s second spacewalk.

Shuttle astronauts Robert Behnken andNicholas Patrick are due venture outside the space station late Saturday nightat 9:09 p.m. EST (0209 Sunday GMT) for a 6 1/2-hour spacewalk aimed primarilyat hooking up the plumbing hoses for the Tranquility module?s cooling system.

The spacewalk is the second of threeexcursions needed to fully switch on the new space station room?s systems.

SPACE.com is providing complete coverage ofEndeavour's STS-130 mission to the International Space Station with ManagingEditor Tariq Malik and Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz based in New York. Click here for live spacewalkcoverage and shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Tariq Malik
Editor-in-Chief

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award (opens in new tab) for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast (opens in new tab) with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network (opens in new tab). To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab).