Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Space station panoramic observation windows opened

The two crews aboard the International Space Station opened the outside shutters on their new panoramic observation platform -- opening their view upon the earth and space.

Astronauts Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick performed a nearly six hour spacewalk early this morning to remove insulation blankets from around the cupola observation module. Then, Endeavour's pilot Terry Virts at 12:25 am EST, today began using a control button inside cupola to open each of the seven protective shutters which cover each window.

"Hey Bob and Nick. Welcome back to the airlock. Great job raising the curtains on the bay window to the world," Endeavour mission specialist Kay Hire radioed to the spacewalkers who had just returned to the Quest airlock.

Today's third and final spacewalk of Endeavour's current docked mission to the space station concluded at 3:03 am. It was the 140th American-based spacewalk over the last eleven years in support of station construction, and the 233rd American spacewalk since Ed White's orbital walk in June 1965.

Endeavour's STS-130 astronauts Behnken and Patrick completed three spacewalks totaling 18 hours and 14 minutes.

The cupola has six trapezoidal windows around its diameter, and one large 31 1/2-inch window on top (image). And, like most homes here on earth, the cupola's windows do have shutters.

The heavy duty steel shutters swing open and closed on a hinge at it's bottom. Each night before the station crew goes to sleep, they will close the shutters to protect the windows from micrometeorites and space debris as they travel 17,250 miles around our beautiful planet.

The eleven astronauts which combine make up both Endeavour's and space station's two crews, will go to bed for eight hours at just after 8AM today.

Looking ahead to Friday, Endeavour's crew of six -- commander George Zamaka, Virts, Hire,
Behnken, Patrick and Steve Robinson -- will prepare the orbiter for undocking and the return home to Florida.

Landing is currently planned for Sunday evening at 10:20 pm, here at the Kennedy Space Center.

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