CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Astronauts swung open the door to their new space station addition Saturday and floated into the spacious and sparkling white room, formally christening it Harmony.
Even though it looked immaculate inside, international space station commander Peggy Whitson and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli -- the first to enter -- wore surgical masks and goggles to protect themselves from any dirty stowaways such as dust, lint or crumbs.
The air inside the school bus-size chamber was immediately tested, and Whitson later reported there wasn't much debris inside at all.
Harmony was named by schoolchildren in America but made in Italy, as Nespoli proudly noted as he bobbed up and down in the 24-foot-long, 14-foot-diameter chamber that was delivered by shuttle Discovery.
"It's a pleasure to be here in this very beautiful piece of hardware," he said.
Flight director Rick LaBrode admired Harmony from Mission Control. "It's bright, shiny ... it's as clean as can be, perfect shape," he said.
The European Space Agency's science laboratory, named Columbus, will hook onto Harmony as early as December. The Japanese Space Agency's lab -- called Kibo, which means Hope -- will latch onto Harmony early next year.
"I love the idea that delivering this [Harmony] is beginning a whole new era of science in space," Discovery's skipper, Pamela Melroy, said in a series of TV interviews from inside the new addition. She said that was more important to her at the moment than being one of two female commanders in space at the same time.
Harmony also will function as a nerve center, providing air, electricity and water for the space station. It was launched with racks of computer and electronic equipment pre-installed. All this gear had to be locked down for the jarring rocket ride to orbit, leaving the astronauts to undo more than 700 bolts to free up the equipment.
The space station's crew will move Harmony to its permanent location after Discovery leaves in another week. Until then, the astronauts will be restricted on how long they can spend inside the new compartment because of the makeshift ventilation system currently in place.