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International Space Station Gets New Permanent Storage Unit

Spacewalker Bowen moves into position aboard the International Space Station's robotic arm as he works outside the station in this image from NASA TV, February 28, 2011

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have installed a new permanent storage unit, creating an additional 70 cubic meters of cargo space and a new venue in which to conduct experiments.

Crew members on Tuesday used the space station's robotic arm to maneuver the Permanent Multipurpose Module, or PMM, out of the space shuttle Discovery's payload bay and attach it to the Earth-facing side of the space station's Unity node. The PMM is the final pressurized module to be attached to the U.S. portion of the space station.

Engineers modified the PMM from a previous cargo carrier - the Italian-built Multipurpose Logistics Module - which traveled to and from the outpost aboard the space shuttle. Like the earlier model, the new PMM is nicknamed Leonardo, after Leonardo da Vinci. It arrived aboard Discovery filled with supplies and a very special passenger - the station's new humanoid robot crew member, Robonaut 2, or R2.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, says it hopes R2 eventually will be able to do manual repair work that is mundane or too dangerous for astronauts. However, the robot's first mission will be to undergo operational testing to determine if it will be able to fulfill its basic duties as an astronaut helper.

Also Tuesday, NASA canceled plans to photograph the space station from a circling Russian Soyuz capsule because of safety concerns. The three-man Soyuz capsule is one of six international spacecraft currently docked at the space station, including ships from the U.S., Russian, Japanese and European space fleets. NASA had hoped to photograph the unprecedented gathering for historical purposes.

Meanwhile, Discovery crew members Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew are preparing for Wednesday's spacewalk that will focus on equipment maintenance. It is the second and final spacewalk of the Discovery mission. Bowen and Drew on Monday executed a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk to prepare the space station for Tuesday's installation.

On Monday, NASA added an extra day to the space shuttle Discovery's mission to allow the crew more time to work on the space station. The shuttle will now complete its mission on March 8.

First launched in 1984, this is Discovery's 39th and final mission. Once back on the Earth, Discovery is expected to be placed on exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, or at its annex location just outside the U.S. capital, where the space shuttle Enterprise is on permanent display.

The United States is ending its 30-year space shuttle program this year. The two other remaining shuttles - Endeavour and Atlantis - each have one mission left, with launches scheduled within the next several months.