CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A team of astronauts working inside and out anchored a giant billion-dollar Japanese lab to the International Space Station yesterday, making it the biggest room there.

The moment of contact came as two of the crew were winding up a spacewalk.

Spacewalkers Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan Jr. took care of all the preliminaries, removing covers and disconnecting cables on the bus-size lab, named Kibo, Japanese for

hope

. They left it to their colleagues inside to do the heavy lifting, by way of the station's robot arm.

The honor of operating the arm for the installation fell to Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who accompanied Kibo into orbit aboard the shuttle Discovery.

Kibo - stretching 37 feet and weighing more than 32,000 pounds - became the biggest lab at the station by nine feet. It sports a hatch to the outside and a robot arm for sliding out science experiments. A smaller arm will arrive next spring.

The first part of Kibo - essentially a storage shed - was delivered by the last shuttle crew in March. The astronauts aboard the linked shuttle and station will attach the shed to the lab Friday.

Japanese Space Agency officials estimate that more than $2 billion went into all the pieces, which had to be split up to fit into NASA's shuttles. The project has been in the works for more than 20 years.

The lab work was just part of yesterday's space walk, the first of three planned for Discovery's nine-day space station visit. Coincidentally, it fell on the 43d anniversary of America's first space walk, by Gemini 4's Edward White.

White spent 21 minutes outside his capsule June 3, 1965. Fossum and Garan's space walk lasted nearly seven hours.

The spacewalkers got off to a late start because of a bad cable in Fossum's communications cap, but soon made up for lost time, helping to remove a 50-foot shuttle inspection boom from the station.

The boom was left there by the last shuttle crew, for Discovery's astronauts to use to survey the shuttle's thermal skin before returning to Earth.

More on the mission

at NASA's Web site via