Japan lab segment attached to space station

HOUSTON, March 14 (Reuters) - Astronauts used a robot arm to attach the first piece of Japan's Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station on Friday, finally giving the Asian country a permanent fixture on the orbital outpost.

With Japanese astronaut Takao Doi maneuvering the arm from inside space shuttle Endeavour, the silvery cylinder was lifted from the shuttle cargo bay and slowly slipped on to the station that 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.

The laboratory 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, which means "hope" in English, will be about the size of a double-decker bus and the largest lab on the station.

It has been more than 20 years in the making at a cost of $2.4 billion.

During the spacewalk, the astronauts remarked several times on the view below them.

"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 tonne 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, but NASA and the Canadian Space Agency were working on a software patch they hoped would fix the problem.

Endeavour, with seven astronauts on board, launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday and arrived at the station on Wednesday night.

It is scheduled to leave the outpost 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 Peter Cooney)