Space Station Astronauts Finally Get Room With a View

Residents of Space Station will get a new outlook on life.

ByABC News
February 12, 2010, 1:10 PM

Feb. 12, 2010 — -- The astronauts of the International Space Station will finally have a room with a view -- a real view of the splendor just outside their ship.

Two spacewalkers from the visiting space shuttle Endeavour, Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick, helped install the final large component on the station overnight. It is a 23-foot-long cylindrical chamber called the Tranquility Node -- but of most interest to astronauts, perhaps, is that on its side will be mounted a six-foot-wide windowed dome called the Cupola.

"It looks really good, nice and smooth coming in there," Behnken said as he watched the Tranquility module, steered by the station's robot arm, move from the shuttle's cargo bay to a docking port at one end of the 300-foot-long orbiting complex.

After the astronauts are finished hooking up Tranquility's power and data cables, external hand rails and the like, the space station -- at least to someone looking at it from the outside -- will be essentially complete. There are four more space shuttle flights scheduled to finish the assembly of the station, but they will mostly do detail work -- electronics, extra supplies, internal parts and backup equipment.

Tranquility will not be a tranquil place for the five or six astronauts living in the station at any given time. They'll probably retreat to the Cupola whenever they can for a chance to look out.

It's long been an irony that while astronauts talk about the mind-bending views they are privileged to see, they've sometimes had to fight to see them at all.

Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961, flew in a Mercury capsule with no windows. Engineers worried that on a dangerous flight in the extremes of space, a window would be a weak spot on the capsule's skin. Shepard and his fellow astronauts practically staged a rebellion to get windows on the five other Mercury missions.

Astronaut Robert Behnken working outside the Tranquility module.

They may not mind. Years ago, I was in Houston talking with astronaut Kenneth Cockrell about the space station's budget problems, and he said there had been long conversations about whether any station sections could be left out to save money. There were compromises made (the station has no bedroom per se; a "habitation module" was canceled), but then they got to talking about whether the cupola could be left out.

"What happened?" I asked.

"That was non-negotiable," he smiled.