CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Wearing goggles and red, white and blue socks, two space commanders opened the door Sunday to Destiny, the American-made science laboratory and the newest and priciest addition to the international space station.
The moment the hatch was raised by astronauts Bill Shepherd and Kenneth Cockrell, space station Alpha became the largest orbiting outpost ever in terms of habitable volume.
"The lab looks and feels and smells great, and looks like all the hard work has really paid off," said Cockrell, space shuttle Atlantis' skipper. "It's a beautiful piece of hardware in here."
In a brief ceremony, Shepherd signed for the delivery of the $1.4-billion laboratory, which was installed by the visiting shuttle astronauts on Saturday.
Shepherd led the way into the Destiny laboratory, followed by Cockrell and the six other space travelers. They wore goggles in case debris was floating inside.
The six Americans wore socks that had red and white stripes from the ankle down, and white stars on a blue background from the ankle up.
Destiny--28 feet long and 14 feet in diameter--was a brilliant white inside. Its shelves and wall compartments were covered with strips of protective cloth that the astronauts and cosmonauts promptly removed. Underneath were spotless white walls running the length of the module and a bright blue wall on one end with matching blue handrails.
The astronauts and cosmonauts installed fire extinguishers and emergency masks and lights in the laboratory, hooked up the air-circulation system, cameras and computers, and executed a few flips and somersaults. There was no research equipment to set up; the first experiment doesn't arrive until next month.
Today and again on Wednesday, shuttle astronauts Thomas Jones and Robert Curbeam Jr. will go back outside to install equipment on the exterior of Destiny and help attach a shuttle docking port to the end of the laboratory.
Destiny is the fourth module to be added to space station Alpha since the first segment was launched in November 1998.