Spacewalk success: space station gets new walk-in closet, Robonaut included
On Monday and Tuesday, spacewalking astronauts installed a new Italian-built cargo carrier that will provide storage for the International Space Station, after it is unpacked in coming weeks.
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With a deft touch, astronauts Nicole Stott and Michael Barratt used the space station's robotic arm Tuesday morning to gingerly lift a 21-foot-long module from the orbiter's cargo bay and attach it to the International Space Station. For 10 years, the Italian-built module, dubbed Leonardo, has ferried goods to and from the space station; it is now the Permanent Multipurpose Module – a new walk-in storehouse for the orbiting outpost.
The space station was high over Turin, Italy, when controllers in Houston drove the final bolts home that joined the Italian-made module to the station. Fully loaded with station-bound cargo, the module tipped the scales at 13.5 tons.
IN PICTURES: NASA's space shuttle
The module, modified to survive the rigors of long-term exposure to space, will give the space-station crew nearly 2,500 cubic feet of additional, pressurized space for storage as well as for racks of science gear. For now, the silvery cylinder also is home to Robonaut 2, the upper half of a humanoid robot that designers hope will ultimately become a mobile, silent partner to the station's crew.
On Monday, the mission-management teams for the station and shuttle approved adding a day to Discovery's mission to allow the orbiter's crew to help unload the module and help stow supples throughout the rest of the station. The extra hands also will speed the process of getting rid of the packing material – now trash – that protected the module's contents from the intense vibrations of launch.
Astronauts will put the refuse in a Japanese unmanned cargo craft, known by its initials HTV. The craft is slated to leave the station shortly after Discovery does. The HTV and its trash will be destroyed as the craft reenters the atmosphere.
The installation of the module comes fresh on the heels of a successful spacewalk on Monday.
The tasks were all the more challenging because Bowen was a last-minute replacement for Tim Kopra, who was injured in a bicycle accident in January and so was scratched from the crew.
Bowen, no stranger to maneuvering in space, has taken part in five previous spacewalks, most recently during a shuttle mission last May. But he had only about a month to prepare for this mission's spacewalks, which the shuttle crew had spent some 10 months perfecting.