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Astronauts Open New Room on Space Station


Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have successfully opened a new room they installed on the orbiting laboratory Friday. The addition is part of U.S. space shuttle Discovery's complex two-week mission to boost the station's capability. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports from Washington.

Crews entered the Harmony module for the first time on Saturday after Station Commander Peggy Whitson and Discovery crewmember Paolo Nespoli opened the hatches.

The astronauts wore protective gear during the grand opening. They began setup of an air circulation system in the Italian-made compartment to make it safe for crewmembers to be inside.

Shuttle Flight Director Rick LaBrode said the day's activities went extremely well. He offered his praise to the crew and the new module.

"It's beautiful," he said. "It's bright, shiny. The report from the crew is that it's just as clean as can be. Perfect shape."

Astronauts attached the bus-sized module to a temporary location on the station during the mission's first spacewalk on Friday.

Harmony will provide docking ports for European and Japanese research laboratories to be installed on the station during upcoming missions. It will be moved to a permanent location after the shuttle departs.

LaBrode said other activities Saturday stabilized the onboard computer system. Both Discovery and the space station have had networking problems during the past few days.

"You've heard me report over pretty much the duration of the mission that we've been fighting on board network problems," he said. "Well, I'm cautiously optimistic that that I think we resolved these problems."

Time had also been set aside Saturday for a more focused inspection of Discovery's heat protection system. But mission managers canceled the plans after NASA engineers analyzed photos for damage and found nothing to warrant further checks.

Crews now have more time to prepare for Sunday's spacewalk, the second of the mission. During the spacewalk, astronauts will prepare a massive solar panel section to be moved by robotic arm to another part of the ISS.

They will also inspect a rotating joint on the station. The joint is needed to keep the station's solar wings turned toward the sun for power. It has experienced problems with increased friction for the past month and a half.

Discovery launched on Tuesday and is expected to return to Earth on November 6.

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