Astronauts battle glitches to move station deck

Image: Cupola relocated
The Cupola is relocated to the Tranquility module's Earth-facing port on Sunday using the International Space Station's robotic arm. NASA TV
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Astronauts moved a brand-new observation deck to its final destination on the International Space Station late Sunday despite jammed bolts and other glitches that threatened their work.

Three bolts jammed at different times while astronauts tried to relocate the space observation deck to its final perch on the bottom of a brand-new room called Tranquility.

After some tweaks from Mission Control, the astronauts got past the jammed bolts only to find another malfunction. The petal-like capture mechanism securing the Cupola observation deck to the outboard end of the new Tranquility module was stuck, too.

The glitches were time-consuming but ended in a "very sweet victory," said shuttle flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho.

"It was a hard-fought victory to be sure," he added.

NASA packed the 1.6-ton window unit for launch by attaching it to the outboard end of the station's new Tranquility module, which is a nearly 24-foot (7-meter) long room that is about the size of a small bus. Both new additions for the space station were delivered by NASA's shuttle Endeavour last week.

After more delays, Mission Control sent up a new procedure that solved the glitch, allowing astronauts to pluck the lookout dome free using the space station's huge robotic arm and started its short move.

"And Houston, good news. We're complete," station commander Jeff Williams said after the last fix was in place.

The observation deck is a $27.2 million lookout dome lined with seven windows — including the largest space window ever built. Space station astronauts have been eagerly awaiting its arrival because it promises to give them unprecedented panoramic views of Earth and space.

"It will give us a big view in a lot of directions," Endeavour shuttle pilot Terry Virts explained Sunday while answering questions from schoolchildren.

The glitches delayed the relocation job in space by more than an hour. It was finally attached at 1:25 a.m. ET, with the astronauts keeping a close eye on a loose wire on the dome to make sure it didn't hamper efforts to reattach it.

Mission managers said the bolts likely jammed because of a mix of the forces imparted by the space station's robotic arm and the fact that they were tightened more than expected when they were installed back on Earth.

This illustration provided by NASA shows a view of the new Cupola which will be installed on the International Space Station. Life has never been so good off the planet, and it's about to get better. Just two weeks after the arrival of the Internet, the space station astronauts are getting an observation deck that will offer panoramic views of Earth. (AP Photo/NASA)NASA

The Cupola is nearly 10 feet (3 meters) wide at its base and 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep. Its main viewport is a huge 31-inch (80-cm) round window mounted in the center. Six smaller windows are arranged around it like flower petals.

NASA almost had to call off the Cupola's move earlier in the mission because some bolts were blocking a vital insulation cover to protect the end of the Tranquility module from exposure to space.

Station astronauts managed to remove those bolts and install the fabric cover on Tranquility, allowing for Sunday night's move. The $382 million Tranquility module is attached to the left side of the space station's central Unity node.

The end of Tranquility won't be empty for long. Endeavour and station astronauts plan to move an old docking adapter there late Monday night.

The Tranquility module and Cupola lookout were built in Italy for NASA by the European Space Agency. They are NASA's last major pieces for the $100 billion space station, which has been under construction since 1998.

Even with the Cupola in place on the bottom of the Tranquility module, the 11 astronauts will have to wait until later this week to take their first look out its viewports.

The Cupola windows are all covered by protective shutters, which astronauts plan to unlock late Tuesday during the last spacewalk of Endeavour's mission.

Endeavour's 14-day mission is the first of NASA's five final shuttle flights planned before the space agency retires its three-orbiter fleet later this year. The shuttle launched Feb. 8 and will stay linked to the space station until Friday. Endeavour and its crew are due to land in Florida on Feb. 21.