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Astronauts open space station's 'beautiful' Japanese lab

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 4, 2008
Astronauts on Wednesday opened the International Space Station's newest and biggest room, a bus-sized Japanese laboratory providing the Asian power its first manned space facility.

Capping a busy day in space that included repairs of a faulty station toilet and long preparations for the lab's inauguration, JapaneseastronautAkihikoHoshide smiled as he inaugurated his country's Kibo facility.

"This is a great moment for the Japanese folks," Hoshide said before floating into the lab, whose name Kibo means "hope" in Japanese. "It's a beautiful module and we have a new hope on the space station."

Hoshide and American colleague Karen Nyberg entered first, wearing protective goggles and masks to check the air quality.

Hoshide waved a "welcome" at a camera before the station's eight other occupants floated in.

Showing off the 15-tonne lab's roomy interior, the eight astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts performed backflips and twirled as they floated around Kibo.

Peering at the lab -- which had yet to be filled with its experiment racks, Hoshide said: "It looks really empty, but it's full of dreams."

Hoshide, Nyberg and five other Americans arrived at the station aboard the US space shuttle Discovery on Monday, carrying Kibo in its payload bay. The lab was attached to the station on Tuesday with a robotic arm.

At 11.2 meters (36.7 feet) long, the facility is bigger than its American and European counterparts. NASA's Destiny module is 8.5 meters long while Europe's Columbus facility, which was installed in February, measures 6.8 meters.

Kibo's 10-meter (33-foot) robotic arm, which will manipulate materials and equipment for science experiments, will also be installed during the Discovery mission.

Shuttle Endeavour already brought one piece of the laboratory in March -- a logistics module that will be used for storage.

The third and final part of the lab -- an outdoor facility that will allow experiments to be exposed to the effects of space -- will be delivered next year.

When completed, Kibo will allow astronauts to carry out experiments in medicine, biology and biotechnology, material production and communications, both in a pressurized environment and completely exposed to space.

The facility will be jointly monitored from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tsukuba facility and NASA Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

The US space agency, which hopes to complete construction of the ISS in 2010, considers the station a central part of space exploration ambitions, allowing scientists to study the effects of microgravity on humans.

Kibo's opening was the crowning moment in a busy day at the station that included an unusual but pressing plumbing job at the outpost's lone toilet.

The toilet's urine disposal system began to fail last week, forcing the station's two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut to use the facility on the Soyuz capsule moored at ISS before Discovery arrived with a replacement part. The solid waste system always worked.

Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko toiled away in the Russian Zvezda module for more than two hours, successfully replacing the toilet pump and installing new hoses brought by Discovery.

After three tests showed no malfunction, Moscow Mission Control gave the station crew 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."

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Astronauts begin Kibo mission's second spacewalk
Washington (AFP) June 5, 2008
Two astronauts began Thursday the second spacewalk of their mission at the International Space Station to give Japan's new giant laboratory cameras and prepare the installation of a stowage unit.

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