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Outer work complete, shuttle crew focuses on space station's interior

Astronauts and cosmonauts floated into the international space station late Monday after speeding through six hours of work outside.

The crew of space shuttle Atlantis opened the first of 12 hatches leading into the 140-foot-long station early, entering the outermost vestibule and then the U.S. module, Unity.

It was expected to take a few hours for the seven men to make their way through the complex. The pressure had to be equalized from one compartment to another before doors could be opened.

Earlier in the day, a pair of spacewalkers hooked up cables, installed a navigation tool and dislodged a jammed piece of equipment on the exterior of the space station. Once that was accomplished, the crewmen turned their attention to the inside.

"Basically, it's a cabin we have that we're trying to get some furniture into and get it ready to move into," said mission operations director Milt Heflin.

The space station is almost double the size it was the last time astronauts visited in May. Zvezda, the Russia-made control module, was added in late July.

With only four days inside the station before Atlantis undocks this weekend, the astronauts and cosmonauts had to work fast. First, they had to unload 1,300 pounds of gear from a Russian cargo ship that arrived in August.

Atlantis contains an additional 4,800 pounds of supplies for the three men who will move in at the beginning of November for a four-month stay.

NASA was cheered by the success of Monday morning's spacewalk by Edward Lu and Yuri Malenchenko.

About 20 spacewalks are planned outside the station over the next year and a half alone. By contrast, Monday's outing was only the 50th in almost 20 years of space shuttle flight.

During their spacewalk, Lu and Malenchenko had to avoid protruding antennas and docking targets as they clambered 110 feet up the station. The two wore American spacesuits, and mixed and matched American and Russian tools while working on Russian compartments.

They moved Zvezda's magnetometer onto the end of a 6{-foot pole so it can better serve as a three-dimensional compass for the space station, and ran nine power, data and TV cables between modules.

They also pushed out a docking target on Zvezda that failed to deploy after launch. NASA did not want the target popping out on its own and hurting a spacewalker.

The two men were back inside Atlantis 16 minutes early. Then the shuttle gave the space station a 3-mile boost in orbit.