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Huge Japanese lab gets even bigger

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

The attic – essentially a 14-foot shed, or closet, for spare tools and equipment – was popped atop the 37-foot Kibo science laboratory by astronauts operating the international space station's robot arm. “Nice work,” Mission Control radioed.

Even before Friday's 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.

Shuttle Discovery's commander, Mark Kelly, said Friday that 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.

The astronauts face more work with Kibo today. They will test drive the lab's 33-foot robot arm, which will be used once the Japanese research platform, or porch, arrives next spring.

The third and final spacewalk for Discovery will take place Sunday.