Turning on the lights in space

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.

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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