Relief as Japan space lab opens

Astronauts power up space lab and fix space station's faulty toilet.

    The Kibo lab is the biggest room to be
    added to the space station [Photo: Nasa]

    Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have opened a newly-attached $1bn Japanese space lab - and declared "victory" in the race to fix the station's sole toilet.


    The Japanese Kibo space laboratory is the station's newest and largest room and provides Japan with its first manned facility in space.


    "This is a great moment for the Japanese folks," Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide said after powering up the lab and opening the door for the first time.


    "It's a beautiful module and we have a new hope on the space station."


    Kibo is named after the Japanese word for "hope" and is the most sophisticated research lab to be attached to the station.


    It was delivered aboard the shuttle Discovery which is on a 14-day mission to the station.


    Once fully operational, the bus-sized module will be used to conduct experiments in space medicine, biology and biotechnology as well as material production and communications.


    A first and much smaller part of the Kibo lab – essentially a sophisticated storage cupboard - was delivered on a previous shuttle mission in March.


    Toilet repairs


    The station's Russian-built toilet broke down
    almost two weeks ago [Photo: Nasa]

    The laboratory will be completed when the final module - an external platform and robotic arm for exposing experiments to the full effects of space - is delivered on another shuttle mission next year.


    Kibo's opening crowned a busy day on the space station, which included a highly-anticipated repair to the $100bn orbiting platform's Russian-built toilet.


    The toilet's liquid disposal system had been broken for almost two weeks, requiring astronauts to resort to a laborious and unpleasant manual flush procedure.


    A replacement pump was rushed from Moscow to Florida just in time to be carried with Discovery.


    On Wednesday, after Russian cosmonauts toiled for more than two hours to install the new pump, mission controllers gave the astronauts a "go" to use the facility again, the US space agency said.


    A Nasa television commentator later announced: "Victory was declared almost two hours ago."


    Nasa 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 station is a central part of international space exploration ambitions, allowing scientists to study the effects of microgravity on humans.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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