Shuttle Atlantis Launches European Lab into Space
CANAVERAL, Fla. — After two months of delay, a new Columbus voyage set sail
aboard NASA’s shuttle Atlantis Thursday as seven astronauts rocketed toward the
International Space Station (ISS) with a European-built lab.
and its STS-122 astronaut crew thundered into space from a seaside launch pad
here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, beginning an 11-day
mission to deliver the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Columbus laboratory to
the Columbus module’s been many years in the making and we’re looking forward
to doing our part to bring it up to Peggy Whitson and her crew on the International
Space Station,” shuttle commander Stephen Frick said just before liftoff. “We’re
looking forward to a great flight and coming back to see our families in two
launched at 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT) with Frick, pilot Alan Poindexter, mission
specialists Rex Walheim, Stanley
Love, Leland Melvin and ESA spaceflyers Hans Schlegel and Leopold Eyharts
aboard. The astronauts plan to install
Columbus, swap out a station crewmember and install new hardware and
experiments to the station’s exterior during their mission.
launch occurred just hours after a Russian cargo ship arrived at the ISS, as
well as seven years to the day that the last science laboratory — the U.S.
Destiny module — headed toward the station aboard the same space shuttle. Atlantis
is scheduled to dock at the orbital lab on Saturday.
has been delayed since early December after engine cut-off (ECO) sensors failed
standard countdown tests during two launch attempts. The sensors act as fuel
gauges and are designed to serve as a backup system to shut down a shuttle’s
three main engines before its external tank runs dry.
tracked the glitch to a faulty electrical connector at the bottom of Atlantis’
fuel tank and replaced it with a modified design. The sensors performed
flawlessly during today’s launch, which reached orbit without requiring their
Administrator Michael Griffin said that engineers and managers were happy that
the sensor repeatedly faulted last year so its flaws could be
won’t have the ECO sensor problem again. We’ve licked it,” Griffin told SPACE.com.
“We finally got one to misbehave badly enough that it would do so repeatedly,
and then we were able to solve the problem.”
successful launch marked NASA’s first shuttle flight of up to six slated for
2008 — the most since the 2003 Columbia tragedy.
afternoon liftoff kicked off NASA’s 121st shuttle mission and the 24th bound
for the ISS. It also marked the 29th launch of Atlantis, which is currently
pegged for retirement after this summer’s planned servicing mission to the
Hubble Space Telescope.
to launch up to 11 more shuttle flights to the space station, and one to the
Hubble Space Telescope, by the September 2010 retirement date for its aging
Christopher Columbus in honor of his Atlantic Ocean-crossing trip in 1492, the
ESA’s Columbus laboratory and its built-in experiment racks weighed about 13
tons at liftoff. By launching the module with science hardware already in
place, ESA officials hope to jumpstart research aboard Columbus soon after it
arrives at the ISS.
about four or six weeks
time, we’ll have commissioned Columbus,” Thirkettle said of the module’s
outfitting. “We’ll have started getting science down, we’ll have started
putting a smile on the faces of scientists, getting the results back that all
of the investment has been there for.”
350 ESA representatives and supporters attended Atlantis’ launch to see
Columbus off this week, he added.
spent 1.4 billion Euro ($2 billion) to build Columbus, which will increase the space
station’s internal volume by about 2,648 cubic feet (75 cubic meters) once it
is completely installed. Eyharts, a veteran ESA astronaut from France will
christen the new lab when he replaces U.S. spaceflyer Dan Tani as an Expedition 16
flight engineer during the upcoming shuttle mission.
be the first time Europe will have a permanent
base in space,” Eyharts said in a NASA interview. “Of course, this is very
important, and this is very challenging.”
will spend about three months aboard the ISS with the station’s Expedition 16 crew
commanded by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. He and his STS-122 crewmates are
slated to dock at station at 12:23 p.m. EST (1723 GMT) on Saturday. The shuttle
is due to return to Earth on Feb. 18.
to have visitors and we’re looking forward to having them,” Whitson has said. “Especially since they’re bringing
a new room for our house.”
Senior Editor Tariq
Malik contributed to this report from New York City.
broadcasting Atlantis’ STS-122 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com’s shuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.
SPACE.com Video Interplayer:
NASA’s STS-122: Columbus Sets Sail for ISS
Your Smarts: Space Shuttle Countdown Quiz
ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge