In a highly anticipated grand finale to their mission, astronauts opened the shutters on the International Space Station's new observation deck Wednesday and were humbled by "absolutely spectacular" views of Earth from inside the elaborate atrium of windows.
The $27 million lookout opened its seven windows one at a time as the crews of the station and shuttle Endeavour carried out their spacewalk.
It was the moment everyone had been waiting for: The round central window — the largest ever in space — was the first exposed as astronauts inside cranked open the shutter 220 miles above the South Pacific.
"As expected, the view through window seven is absolutely spectacular," space station commander Jeffrey Williams said. "When we have the others around it open, it will give us a view of the entire globe. Absolutely incredible."
"I don't think space station's ever going to be the same after this," mission control said in a congratulatory call.
The Italian-built dome — 5 feet tall and nearly 10 feet in diameter — is designed to offer sweeping 360-degree views of the home planet and outer space, as well as the space station itself. It's not just for the crew's viewing pleasure; a robotic work station will be installed early Thursday, providing direct views for astronauts when they operate the station's big mechanical arm.
Endeavour and its crew will leave the space station Friday and return to Earth on Sunday.