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Astronauts explore new Space Station room

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station celebrated the grand opening of their orbital laboratory’s latest addition on Saturday to christen the hub-like node dubbed Harmony.

The station’s Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli carefully opened the hatch to the nearly 16-ton Harmony module at 8:24 a.m. EDT (1224 GMT), commemorating the international event with a brief ceremony.

The Italian-built Harmony node was installed by the STS-120 crew aboard NASA’s shuttle Discovery during a Friday spacewalk.

Nespoli and Whitson wore the protective goggles and masks inside the node to guard against any loose debris shaken free during the module delivery to the ISS. They also took air samples after floating into the new orbital room.

Astronauts connected power and data lines to the Harmony module earlier today to power up its internal systems. They will then start the busy task of replacing valves and removing more than 700 bolts that secured the module’s internal components.

The Harmony module increases the internal volume of the ISS by about 2,666 cubic feet, bringing the station to a total amount of more than 17,000 cubic feet.

The Harmony node serves as the docking point for European and Japanese laboratories to be installed during future shuttle missions.