|Kibo being removed from Discovery before being attached to the station [EPA/Nasa] |
A team of astronauts has successfully attached a $1bn Japanese space laboratory to the International Space Station – adding the biggest room yet to the orbiting platform.
Kibo, meaning "hope" in Japanese, was blasted into space aboard the Shuttle Discovery, which is on a 14-day mission to the space station.
Once fully operational, the 15-tonne, bus-sized laboratory will become Japan's permanent foot-hold in space.
|Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will help |
complete the new lab's installation [AFP/Nasa]
It was manoeuvred into place by two space-walking astronauts and then attached using the space station's own robotic arm.
"We have a new hope on the international space station," announced Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who was at the controls inside the space station.
He and the rest of Discovery's crew will spend nine days at the station, completing the new lab's installation and conducting other work.
The shuttle has also brought with it a much-needed spare part to repair the space station's only toilet.
The Russian-built toilet has been broken for more than two weeks, forcing the station's three-man crew to use a laborious manual pump which takes up to 10 minutes to flush the system.
Kibo is the most sophisticated of the international laboratories attached to the space station and has been under development for more than two decades.
Its deployment was delayed by the Columbia disaster in 2003, which put a freeze on shuttle missions for more than a year.
Last and largest of four research modules for International Space Station
Japan's first permanent manned presence in space
To be delivered into orbit by three shuttle flights
Will conduct experiments on effect of microgravity
Includes platform with robotic arm to expose experiments to space
The Japanese lab accommodates up to four astronauts and will be used to carry out experiments in space medicine, biology and biotechnology as well as material production and communications.
A first and much smaller part of the lab – essentially a storage cupboard - was delivered on a previous shuttle mission in March.
A third and final component, including an outside platform for exposing experiments to the full effects of space, will be delivered next year.
Nasa, the US space agency, has an ambitious schedule to complete construction of the space station by 2010, when the ageing space shuttle fleet is due to be retired.
It says the multibillion dollar space station is a central part of international space exploration ambitions, allowing scientists to study the effects of microgravity on humans.