The space station’s window to the world looks huge in this photo

Perhaps the most famous part of the International Space Station (ISS) is the Cupola, a seven-window observation module that offers panoramic views of Earth and space.

Many ISS astronauts enjoy spending their free time there, dreamily gazing out the windows while taking photos showcasing the beauty of our planet.

But the dome is more than just a place for astronauts to relax in their free time. It is also the ideal location for Earth observation studies and serves as a workstation to operate the facility’s robotic arm for spacewalks and spacecraft maneuvers.

The dome is 3 meters wide and 1.5 meters high and weighs approximately 1.8 tonnes. It was built by the European Space Agency (ESA) and installed during a Space Shuttle Endeavor mission in 2010, a decade after the ISS came into service.

This week, current ISS resident Matthias Maurer tweeted a photo of the dome that hints at the amazing views that visitors to the space facility can enjoy.

There is always something to see from the Cupola 🔎🌍 An incredible view of the Earth, robotic activities of the @csa_asc # Canadarm2, arrival of spacecraft &; spacewalks. At the moment you can also see part of the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft & #Prichal behind me 🛰️#CosmicKiss

– Matthias Maurer (@astro_matthias) December 15, 2021

Note, however, that the windows are not as large as the photo seems to suggest, with the camera’s wide-angle lens distorting the image somewhat. The video below provides an overview of the interior of the dome and gives a better idea of ​​the actual size of not only the windows, but the module itself.

A little-known feature of the cupola is its external shutter system which helps protect the windows from tiny meteorites and orbital debris that might present themselves. Closed when the module is not in use, the shutters also prevent solar radiation from heating the dome and prevent internal heat from escaping, according to the ESA. You can see the shutters in action in the video below.

ESA says the dome provides a “shirt sleeve environment” for up to two astronauts working in the module. “Its internal layout is dominated by upper and lower handrails around the cabin, supporting most of the equipment, and by ‘closure’ panels that cover the harness and cooling water lines. “

To discover the Cupola for yourself, consult The wonderfully immersive functionality of Google Earth which allows you to see the module from all angles, and also in great detail.

To learn more about daily life aboard the International Space Station, take a look at these videos made by visiting astronauts over the years.

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Jack C. Nugent