The Cupola with Earth as a backdrop
As the spacewalk ended and the astronauts made their way back in to the Quest airlock, Astronaut Jeff Williams prepared the covers of the Cupola for opening. Inside the new Tranquility node outfitting and activation continued, and one by one the protective debris shield covers were peeled back.
The windows are opened one at a time
Cameras mounted on the station's truss were all pointed at the Cupola, watching each and every move inside. Busy with their tasks, the astronauts could be seen inside moving around.
And the view is spectacular
Even after all the windows had been opened the work continued.
Busy at work, but the room has a view now
Not unlike a Millennium Falcon scene from Star Wars, the Cupola bathed the interior with light from all 7 windows. The astronauts became silhouettes as they finished out their tasks and preparations. Astronaut Soichi Noguchi was the first to get the view online by posting an a snapshot with the Sahara desert in the windows on his Twitter page.
Other than providing incredible views of the Earth below, the new Cupola has several operational purposes, not least as a viewing portal for robotics operations. The current robotics workstation is in the Destiny laboratory and consists of an array of monitors that provide camera views and computer displays to astronauts using the Canadarm robotic arm and Dexter, the dexterous manipulator that can attach to the end of the arm. This workstation will now be moved into the Cupola, where robotics operators can get first hand views of the arm as they operate it.
Views of arriving and departing spacecraft will also take on a new meaning, especially the Shuttle as it must perform a back-flip upon arrival so station astronauts can take detailed photography of the heat shield.
Images credit: NASA TV