New Japanese lab gets bigger at space station

‘LEXUS’ SPACE MODEL: Astronauts attached an attic to the huge 11m Kibo science laboratory, while plans to add a patio are set for the near future


Sun, Jun 08, 2008 - Page 7

The space station’s huge new Japanese lab got even bigger on Friday when the astronauts attached an attic to it for extra storage.

The attic — essentially a 4m shed, or closet, for spare tools and equipment — was popped atop the 11m Kibo science laboratory by astronauts operating the international space station’s robot arm.

“Nice work,” Mission Control radioed.

Even before the addition, the billion-dollar, bus-size Kibo was the biggest room at the space station.

The attic had been in a temporary location at the space station since March. There wasn’t enough room on a space shuttle to fit both the attic and lab, so NASA split them into two flights. The third and final Japanese section, a porch for outdoor experiments, will be launched next spring.

In an interview with reporters on Friday, shuttle Discovery’s commander, Mark Kelly, said Kibo may not smell like a new car, but “it has a new car feel to it.” Before his flight, he described Kibo as “the Lexus of the space station modules.”

“It’s incredibly big, a lot of room so you have to be a little extra careful. You can get out in the middle of it and you can’t reach a handrail and you could possibly get stuck there for a little while,” Kelly said.

The space station’s commander, Russian Sergei Volkov, said the blue curtain, or Japanese noren, hanging over Kibo’s threshold is a homey touch, and he’ll leave it up for a while.

Discovery’s astronauts delivered and installed Kibo, along with the noren, earlier in the week.

Also flying to the space station aboard Discovery: a new pump for the space station’s broken toilet, which is now fixed, the jerseys of three sports greats and Buzz Lightyear.

Buzz joined the 10 astronauts and cosmonauts for dinner on Thursday night — he was offered borscht — and was seen looking out the window at a pair of spacewalkers and ringing the space station’s bell, by banging into it with his head. The Disney action figure, made famous in the 1995 film Toy Story, flew up on Discovery and moved into the space station for a six-month stay, as part of NASA’s toys-in-space educational program.

The jerseys, on the other hand, were kept tucked away in a shuttle locker.

One of Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France yellow shirts is flying, as well as the backup jersey that New York Giants football player Eli Manning took to the Super Bowl championship in February and the last jersey worn by Craig Biggio in a Houston Astros baseball game.

Kelly assured the AP that the shirts will return to Earth unworn, even though several on his crew are big cycling, football and baseball fans.

The astronauts faced more work with Kibo yesterday. They were to test drive the lab’s 10m robot arm, which will be used once the Japanese research platform, or porch, arrives next spring.

The third and final spacewalk for Discovery’s nine-day space station visit — to replace an empty nitrogen gas tank — will take place today.