Where can you marvel at 16 sunrises each day? Ask the astronauts in the Cupola 400 Kilometers high in the sky
You are an astronaut monitoring the precision docking of arriving spacecraft for delivery of food and water for your team aboard the International Space Station. It’s part of your many tasks, including conducting experiments and observing Earth from 400 Kilometers in space.
You want the best observation point possible for all of your work—as well as a breathtaking perch over Mother Earth for the moments when you can take a break and relax.
That is where the Cupola comes in. The jewel-shaped observatory module with seven windows offers a spectacular 360-degree view. It’s there that astronauts can witness 16 sunrises a day as the largest object ever placed into orbit turns around the earth every 90 minutes. It’s where French astronaut Thomas Pesquet took his stunning pictures of planet Earth.
Nearly 3 meters in diameter and 1.5 meters tall, with six side windows and a top window – at 80 cm, the largest ever used in space - the Cupola has become a real "control tower" for the ISS astronauts. It features a thermal control system, audio, and video interfaces, as well as the connections needed for installing one of the two identical robotic workstations.
Launched aboard the Space Shuttle in 2010 and attached to the Tranquility module, “The Cupola has become the preferred space of the ISS astronauts, a place to let off steam,” says Walter Cugno, Vice President, Exploration and Science Domain at Thales Alenia Space. “It’s a real window on space, where the view has given us a better understanding of the value of the International Space Station”.
Designing, testing, and constructing the viewing dome at the Thales Alenia Space plant in Turin was a considerable feat. Each porthole was developed using advanced technology to protect the silicon-made panels from years of exposure to solar radiation and impact from micrometeoroids and orbital debris. Because of the seven windows, the design also had to withstand huge structural pressure.
The result was an octagonal module that can accommodate two astronauts at the same time, giving them a chance to relax from their grueling schedule—and dazzle us all with their photos showing the beauty of our planet and the wonder of space.