February 16, 2010, 11:41 AM — After some fancy robotic crane work over the past couple days, NASA Endeavour astronauts are preparing for tonight’s final spacewalk where they will open the windows on the space station’s sweet new dome-shaped observatory.
The cupola observatory module is considered the ultimate observation deck. It is attached to an Earth-facing side of the International Space Station and has seven windows -- six around the sides and one on top -- that can be shuttered when not in use to protect them from micrometeoroids and the harsh space environment.
Just under ten feet in diameter, the Cupola will accommodate two crew members and portable workstations that can control station and robotic activities. The view will let the ISS crew monitor spacewalks and docking operations, as well as provide a spectacular view of Earth and other celestial objects, NASA stated.
Over the weekend there was a minor delay in releasing the cupola as the bolts attaching it to its launch position from the Tranquility module had been torqued in Earth’s gravity and were a little tighter than expected, NASA stated. The cupola traveled to space linked to the tranquility module.
Once the shuttle’s 57-foot robotic arm removed and enabled astronauts to bolt Tranquality to the ISS, another round of crane work helped the spacewalkers remove and attach the cupola to its spot on the ISS. More robotic arm work then moved an older docking port to Tranquility.
Outfitting of the cupola, including preparations for filling water lines and for installation of a robotics workstation went as planned and spacewalking astronauts tonight will remove insulation from the cupola’s seven windows and then release bolts that held the covers in place during launch, enabling astronauts to open the shutters from inside, NASA said.
On tonight’s 6.5-hour spacewalk astronauts are expected to open the second of two ammonia loops to allow coolant to flow through Tranquility and disconnect temporary power cables to the life support module, NASA said.