Monday, February 11, 2008

European lab attach to space station

Astronauts installed the European laboratory Columbus on the International Space Station on Monday, finally giving Europe its first permanent research facility in space. Sunlight reflects from the European Space Agency's Columbus module as it is shown attached to the International Space Station (ISS) in this image from NASA TV February 11, 2008.

Houston, Munich, the European Columbus laboratory module is now part of the ISS. The $1.9 billion Columbus lab, 7 metres long and nearly 4.5 metres in diameter, is the heart of a $5 billion investment in the space station program by 10 European countries. It is lined with refrigerator-sized racks to be used for wide-ranging space research.

Leland Melvin and Dan Tani used a robot arm to lift the gleaming 10-tonne cylinder from the cargo bay of space shuttle Atlantis and slip it on to a station berthing port in a moment put off for years by shuttle problems.

Columbus was supposed to have been delivered in 2002 but was postponed by delays launching the space station's service module and then the explosion of the shuttle Columbia in 2003 that led to a suspension of flights for 2-1/2 years. Even at the end, nothing came easy for Columbus.

NASA had to postpone installation for a day when German astronaut Hans Schlegel, scheduled to take part in an accompanying spacewalk, fell ill. Space rookie Stan Love filled in and, working with lead spacewalker Rex Walheim, prepared Columbus for its move from the shuttle. In their bulky spacesuits, they struggled to attach a clasp for the robot arm, falling more than hour behind schedule.

The European Space Agency has counted on the successful deployment of Columbus and the March 8 launch of a cargo ship to proceed with programs that will include involvement in NASA's plan to return humans to the moon. This will be the first time Europe will have a permanent base in space. The first participation will help in reinforcing our technical expertise and our experience of operations to be able to go further and participate with the future of space exploration.

Japan is still waiting for NASA to launch its space station contribution a three-part laboratory named Kibo. The U.S. space agency plans to begin installing the Japanese lab during its next shuttle mission in March. NASA has 11 more construction and resupply flights remaining before the $100 billion station is complete and the space shuttles are retired in 2010.


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