Space station gets more room with Harmony opening

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HOUSTON, Oct 27 (Reuters) Astronauts on the International Space Station today got more living space when they opened up Harmony, the outpost's first new room in six years.

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli and station commander Peggy Whitson lifted the hatch, then floated into the Italian-built chamber attached during a yesterday spacewalk two days after arriving aboard space shuttle Discovery.

''It is a pleasure to be here in this very beautiful piece of hardware,'' Nespoli said as he admired its white, austere interior.

He later made similar remarks in Italian.

''We want to acknowledge and christen the Harmony module,'' Whitson said. ''We think Harmony is a very good name for this module because it represents the culmination of a lot of international partner work.'' The name was selected from submissions by schoolchildren.

Whitson, the station's first female commander, received a necklace with a Harmony charm from Discovery commander Pamela Melroy.

Harmony adds 2,600 cubic feet of space to the station, which measured 15,000 cubic feet before its arrival.

The 24-foot-(seven-metre-)long cylinder will be a living area and also the berthing port for European and Japanese laboratories to be installed on upcoming shuttle flights.

NASA plans to finish the 100 billion dollars station by 2010 when the shuttle fleet is set to be retired.

Astronauts prepared Harmony for entry by connecting its power and data cables and turning on its lights. Whitson and Nespoli, wearing face masks, tested the air for contaminants as they entered.

A chief task is the removal of about 700 nuts and bolts that locked Harmony down during Tuesday's launch from Florida.

The module is in a temporary location on the station and will be moved to its permanent place, where Discovery is currently docked, after the shuttle leaves for its scheduled November 6 landing on Earth.

Europe's Columbus laboratory will be attached to Harmony during a December shuttle mission, followed by Japan's multipiece Kibo laboratory starting on a February flight.

Also on Saturday, astronauts Scott Parzynski and Dan Tani were to prepare for the second of five planned spacewalks during Discovery's stay.

Tomorrow, they will detach an 18-tonne solar panel unit from its current location on top of the station to prepare for its move on Tuesday to a permanent place at the edge of the space outpost.

Tani also will look at a large rotary joint for the station's solar power arrays to see if he can spot why it has been vibrating more than it should. NASA engineers say debris may be interfering with its movement.

REUTERS SG AS1937

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