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The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) is about to get a new "eye-pod." The Tranquility node headed for the space station early in 2010 will feature a viewing dome unlike any other window ever flown in space. The dome, called the Cupola, is literally studded with windows for observing Earth, space, and the marvelous expanse of the ISS itself.
The Cupola, named after the raised observation deck on a railroad caboose, is designed as an observation platform for operations outside the station--e.g., robotics, spacewalks, and docking spacecraft. Computer workstations inside the dome will give astronauts full control over the space station's robotic arm and dexterous manipulator, while the windows offer unparalleled views of these devices in action.
"The Cupola's 80-cm diameter circular top window is the largest window ever built for space," says Robinson. "Rather than peering through a little porthole, the Cupola will allow a stunning look at the cosmos and unprecedented panoramic views of Earth. Astronauts will share these views with the world through photographs taken through the windows and posted online."
"The Cupola module will be a fascinating addition to the Space Station," said International Space Station Program Manager Bill Gerstenmaier. "The crew will have an improved view of critical activities outside the Station and breathtaking views of the Earth below."
The crew will use Cupola windows, six around the sides and one on the top, for line-of-sight monitoring of outside activities, including spacewalks, docking operations and exterior equipment surveys. The Cupola will be used specifically to monitor the approach and berthing of the Japanese H-2 supply craft and other visiting vehicles. The Cupola will serve as the primary location for controlling Canadarm2, the 60-foot Space Station robotic arm.
Space Station crews use two robotic control workstations in the Destiny laboratory to operate the arm. One of the robotic control stations will be placed inside the Cupola. The view from the Cupola will enhance an arm operator's situational awareness, supplementing television cameras and graphics.
The Cupola is expected to be launched aboard STS-130, scheduled to launch December 10, 2009. It will initially be installed on the Unity Module and later be transferred to the Tranquility Module of the space station.