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Forget Portholes, Space Station Gets 360-Degree View
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Forget Portholes, Space Station Gets 360-Degree View



Astronauts often say that one of the best things about being in space is looking down at the beautiful blue Earth. Well, now the International Space Station is about to get what NASA is calling a room with a view. It's a kind of observation tower that will give astronauts a window on the world unlike any other in space.

NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Right now, astronauts on board the station can peer out through small portholes. The biggest, best window is in the U.S. Destiny Lab. It's a porthole 20 inches across. But this Sunday morning, space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to blast off on a mission to deliver a new room to the station. This room will have a 360-degree bay window called the cupola. It has seven windows, so astronauts can float inside and be surrounded by panoramic views. Terry Virts will be a first-time space flyer on the Endeavour mission.

Mr. TERRY VIRTS (Astronaut, NASA): The one thing that I'm really looking forward to, and I know all my crewmates are also, is getting a chance to look out of the cupola, with the seven windows and the view that we're going to get there. That's going to be really special to see that view of the Earth and of space and that's going to be fun.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Technically, the new windows aren't for fun. They'll help astronauts orchestrate outside work, things like spacewalks, robotic arm operations, and docking spaceships. And the windows do have aluminum shutters that will often be closed, that's to keep them from being hit by tiny bits of flying space rock or space junk - even though the tough windows already are several panes thick. Still, the astronauts can't wait to get the new room all installed and finally open those shutters for the first time. Kay Hire is an astronaut going up on Endeavour.

Mr. KAY HIRE (Astronaut, NASA): We will definitely be bringing along some still cameras as well as video cameras to try to capture those views as best we can to share with you.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But, she says, she can guarantee those photos won't be able to convey exactly what it's like to see the vast expanse of earth and space spread out all around.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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