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Space-Station Astronauts Hook Up New Module

A pair of spacewalking astronauts wired the international space station's newest room on Saturday, crossing the last major task off their to-do list before the next shuttle mission early next month.

Commander Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani hooked up more electrical and fluid connections linking the space station and the Harmony compartment that was delivered by the shuttle Discovery last month.

Harmony will serve as a docking port for a new European laboratory named Columbus. The shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to deliver the lab in two weeks. A Japanese lab set to be delivered early next year also will dock to the school bus-sized module.

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Flight controllers on the ground were checking all of Harmony's systems Saturday to make sure the module would be ready to accommodate the new lab.

"It looks good so far," Mission Control told the astronauts as they floated back into the hatch at the end of the spacewalk.

Flight director Derek Hassmann said Harmony's cooling and power systems were up and running, as were its computers.

He said it is an "amazing accomplishment" that the station crew got all their work done so quickly with no major mechanical hiccups.

"It's become routine but it's not nearly as easy as this crew and this team makes it look," Hassmann said.

Much of Saturday's work involved lugging a second 18 1/2-foot, 300-pound tray holding fluid lines to Harmony and bolting it down. The lines carry ammonia, a coolant. The astronauts moved and installed another fluid tray on Tuesday.

"Don't rush," Whitson told Tani as they struggled to move the bulky tray. They took turns handling the equipment, with one astronaut passing it to the other and then crawling forward for another hand-off.

"Cool, I can feel the ammonia rushing in," Tani commented after he hooked up one of the fluid lines.

Tani also spent about an hour inspecting a jammed joint that is needed to turn one of the space station's two sets of huge solar wings. The gear has been experiencing electrical current spikes and must be repaired over the coming months to continue station construction.

Last month, Tani found steel shavings inside the joint while spacewalking during Discovery's visit. He found similar debris on Saturday.

Guided by an engineer on the ground, Tani and Whitson took digital pictures of the joint's inner workings and described the debris and damage they could see. Most of the shavings were concentrated in one area, Tani said, and nearly everything else was covered with a fine dust.

The area of the joint that Tani uncovered will remain exposed so astronauts can shoot video of it later.

The space station's three residents have been working almost nonstop since Discovery's departure on Nov. 5. This was their third spacewalk and the last planned before Atlantis arrives.

The American spacewalkers' Russian crewmate, Yuri Malenchenko, remained in the station during Saturday's outing.

Atlantis is scheduled to blast off on Dec. 6.