HOUSTON (Reuters) - Astronauts attached the first piece of Japan's Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station on Friday, finally giving the Asian country a permanent place on the orbital outpost.
Japanese astronaut Takao Doi used a robot arm to remotely lift the gleaming cylinder from space shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay and slip it on to the station, which now has segments representing all 15 of its partner nations.
Kibo's installation came at the end of a seven-hour spacewalk by astronauts Garrett Reisman and Richard Linnehan, who helped ready Kibo for its move and also worked on assembly of a Canadian robotic system known as Dextre.
Japanese space officials at Mission Control in Houston applauded as they watched the moment more than 20 years and $2.4 billion in the making.
Tetsuro Yokoyama, deputy manger of operations for the Kibo project, said it was a "memorable day for Japan's human space flight program."
"It has been very exciting for us at JAXA to watch today's activities," he told reporters, referring to Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
He called the performance of Doi, who worked from inside the shuttle, "spectacular."
The cylinder is basically a storage compartment for the main segment of the three-piece Kibo, which is scheduled for delivery on a May space shuttle flight. The final piece will be flown up in early 2009.
Upon completion, Kibo, a Japanese word for "hope," will be about the size of a double-decker bus and the largest lab on the station.
During the spacewalk, the astronauts remarked several times on the view.
"Wow, wow, wow. What are we going over now?" Linnehan said. "It could be Chicago, it could be the lake. Wow."
About half of the five spacewalks planned during Endeavour's 12-day stay at the station will be dedicated to putting together the 1.5 metric ton Dextre, which has 11-foot-long (3.4-metre) arms and was brought up in nine pieces.
NASA plans to use the $209 million robot to help with detailed exterior station maintenance, which would reduce the need for risky astronaut spacewalks.
Dextre was not receiving power from the station's electrical system on Friday, which Canadian Space Agency officials blamed on a faulty cable that is used only during assembly to keep the system warm.
They unsuccessfully tried a software patch on Friday to fix the problem, but said they can likely provide the needed power through a robot arm on the station.
Endeavour, with seven astronauts on board, launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday and arrived at the station on Wednesday.
It is scheduled to leave the outpost on March 24 and return to Earth two days later.
Soon after Endeavour's departure, Europe's first cargo ship, an unmanned "Automated Transfer Vehicle" called "Jules Verne," is scheduled to dock at the station.
NASA is aiming to complete construction of the space station, now about 60 percent finished, by 2010 when the space shuttle fleet will be retired.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham