Space Station Ready to Flex Japanese Robotic Arm
Backdropped by the blackness of space, the Japanese Pressurized Module (foreground), the Japanese Logistics Module (top right), and a portion of the Harmony node of the ISS are featured in this image photographed by a crewmember during the STS-124 mission's second spacewalk on June 5, 2008.
Credit: NASA.

This story was updated at 12:37 p.m. EDT.

HOUSTON - Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) successfully flexed and folded a fledgling robotic arm Monday to check the external reach of the outpost's new Japanese lab.

Discovery shuttle astronauts extended the six-jointed arm of Japan?s newly installed billion-dollar Kibo laboratory out to its full 33-foot (10-meter) length before tucking it away for future tests.

?It was such a pretty view,? Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide told Japan?s mission controllers at the Tsukuba Space Center today after reaching out with Kibo?s robotic limb.

Hoshide and NASA spaceflyer Karen Nyberg inched the arm through its first twitches on Saturday, when they moved it slightly to clear space so two spacewalkers could remove insulation covers and unlock a window at the end of Japan?s 37-foot (11-meter) Kibo lab. But their test today with station astronaut Gregory Chamitoff marked the first large deployment of the new robotic arm.

?It?ll be quite dramatic,? said Annette Hasbrook, lead station flight director for Discovery?s flight, in a Sunday briefing here at NASA?s Johnson Space Center. ?It?ll practically extend all the way out, and then move down and fold in on itself.?

Kibo?s main robotic arm weighs about 1,719 pounds (780 kg) and can haul objects as massive as 15,432 pounds (7,000 kg). It launched with its Kibo parent module aboard the shuttle Discovery on May 31. The shuttle?s seven-astronaut crew, commanded by veteran astronaut Mark Kelly, is due to return to Earth Saturday after wrapping up the new lab?s installation aboard the station.

?It?s not going to move around, not like the station arm,? said Hoshide, representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in a NASA interview before flight. ?It?s going to sit there.?

The space station?s 57-foot (17-meter) Canadarm2 robotic arm can crawl from one spot to another outside the orbiting lab?s hull like an inchworm.

Kibo?s robotic arm is built solely for manipulating experiments on the laboratory?s porch-like platform slated to be launched aboard a NASA shuttle next year, Hoshide said. A smaller Japanese robotic arm, to be used for finer actions, is also planned for launch later.

Today?s flex and fold exercises will set the stage for five more shakedown tests in the coming months by the space station?s three-man Expedition 17 crew. The final test is expected to end in the Japanese robotic limb?s first grapple onto an attachment point outside the station.

?We?ll get the opportunity to see that arm to do its thing several times over the summer,? said space station flight director Emily Nelson early Monday.

In addition to the robotic arm tests, all 10 astronauts aboard the docked station and shuttle are expected to discuss their mission with reporters on Earth later this afternoon.

They?re also expected to reopen the Kibo?s storage room, a squat 14-foot (4.4-meter) room that was moved to laboratory?s rooftop berth on Friday. The attic-like storage space has no defined use, and can serve as an extra closet for space-starved astronauts aboard the station.

?You can imagine how full your house gets as you go through life, but you can never have a garage sale or very infrequently take things away,? Nelson said. ?This will provide some much needed storage space.?

NASA is broadcasting Discovery's STS-124 mission live on NASA TV on Saturday. Click here for SPACE.com's shuttle mission updates and NASA TV feed.