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Japan's laboratory ready to join space 'family'

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 2, 2008
The US shuttle Discovery delivered a large Japanese laboratory to the International Space Station on Monday that will give the Asian power a permanent outpost to carry out experiments in space.

MissionspecialistsMikeFossumandRonGaran will venture out of the ISS Tuesday on the first of three planned spacewalks to unlock the lab from the shuttle's payload bay so it can be installed on the orbiting station.

JapanAerospaceExplorationAgencyastronautAkihikoHoshide will then operate the station's robotic arm to remove his country's lab from Discovery's cargo bay and attach it to the ISS.

Discovery linked up with the ISS on Monday about 338 kilometers (210 miles) above the South Pacific after a two-day trip around Earth.

Two hours after docking, Hoshide, Fossum, Garan and Discovery's four other astronauts floated into the ISS, where they exchanged hugs and handshakes with the outpost's three residents.

"You have a beautiful house," US robotics specialist Greg Chamitoff told ISS crew member Garrett Reisman before the hatches opened. Chamitoff is replacing Reisman, who will return to Earth aboard Discovery after a three-month mission.

About an hour before docking, Commander Mark Kelly steered Discovery into a rollercoaster-like maneuver, flipping the shuttle just 600 feet (180 meters) below the station to allow ISS astronauts to photograph its underside.

The 360-degree maneuver, two days after the shuttle lifted off in Florida for its 14-day flight, has become a regular safety feature during flights allowing the space agency to ensure that the shuttle is free of potentially devastating damage.

The images taken by the station crew members were downloaded to engineers on Earth who were inspecting them for signs of damage to the shuttle's thermal shield.

Ground cameras spotted several pieces of foam coming off Discovery's external fuel tank during Saturday's launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but NASA has downplayed the risk posed by the debris.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has meticulously scanned the shuttles' heat shields since the Columbia disaster in 2003, when a crack in its protective tiles led to its explosion, killing seven astronauts.

NASA said Saturday's launch caused unprecedented damage to the shuttle's launch pad, but the space agency was confident that it had caused no damage to Discovery.

Lead shuttle flight director Matt Abbott said the mission had been "flawless" so far.

"It's one big happy spaceship now (with) the International Space Station and Discovery, and it's great to have the Kibo pressurized module part of the International Space Station. All we have to do now is intall it," he said.

The Japanese Pressurized Module (JPM) is the central segment of three parts that will make up Japan's Kibo, or "hope," laboratory.

The 11.2-meter (36.7-foot) long, 14.8-tonne (32,600-pound) module will be the single largest room on the ISS, with space for four scientists.

Kibo's 10-meter (33-foot) robotic arm, which will manipulate materials and equipment for science experiments, will also be pulled from the shuttle and attached to the laboratory.

The March 2008 shuttle carried up the logistics module and the JPM's internal racks. A mission planned for 2009 will deliver a sort of terrace to expose experiments to the space environment.

Discovery's mission has also brought badly-needed parts to fix a high-tech Russian-built space toilet.

The ISS commode malfunctioned last week, forcing the three ISS astronauts to rig up a still-troublesome bypass for liquid waste.

Until the repair is complete, the three-member station crew will use the shuttle's toilet -- or they will use more emergency bags that Discovery is also bringing.

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Kibo: Japan's research unit at the International Space Station
Washington (AFP) May 31, 2008
Japan's Kibo module, the main component of which is being carried to the International Space Station by NASA's Discovery shuttle, marks a major expansion of the station's research capacity.

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