Turning on the lights in space

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Astronauts and cosmonauts from the shuttle Atlantis opened the doors, turned on the lights, sniffed the air, then went to work making the International Space Station into a "home."

Atlantis is on a mission to outfit the fledgling 13-story station with life-support and control systems before the first long-duration crew arrives in November.

Opening the station Sept. 12 was laborious as Atlantis commander Terrence Wilcutt and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko worked their way through a dozen hatches. As they entered each compartment in the station's three existing modules, the team paused to equalize air pressure and take air-quality readings. The payoff was opening the Zvezda service module. It will be headquarters for a succession of expeditionary crews that will inhabit the station during construction. "It's absolutely beautiful," said Mr. Wilcutt.

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Perhaps only to an astronaut. To others, these new living quarters, with industrial-green panels, staterooms the size of broom closets, and an open toilet in sight of the kitchen, might be off-putting.

But to NASA, the station represents the first permanent foothold in the heavens. For the cash-strapped Russians, who have pioneered long-duration spaceflight since the 1970s, it is a way of maintaining their hold in space. These two senior partners are joined in the endeavor by Canada, Japan, and Europe.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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