February 11, 2008

Columbus Science Lab Successfully Attached to Space Station

After full day's work, Columbus, Europe's new $2 billion science lab was anchored to the international space station on Monday by a team of astronauts working inside and out.

The process took much longer than expected but after a long spacewalk by Rex Walheim and Stanley Love, it was culminated by the attachment of the 23-foot, 14-ton lab that was ferried up by Atlantis. The event was heralded by the astronauts who shouted and cheered when the lab reached its destination.

French astronaut Leopold Eyharts announced its arrival. "Beautiful work," radioed Mission Control.

Following last week's liftoff, German astronaut Hans Schlegel became ill and was replaced by Love in a last-minute switch that prompted NASA to delay Columbus' installation by a day and lengthen Atlantis' space station visit.

U.S. and European space officials have refused to divulge the illness.

The Columbus lab was meant to go up 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the sailing of Christopher Columbus, but after suffering both space station and shuttle problems, liftoff was delayed. Thus Monday's attachment was a momentous occasion for The European Space Agency who had waited years to see Columbus fly.

Astronaut Daniel Tani reported: "Columbus has started its trip to the New World," as Columbus was lifted out of Atlantis using a robot arm controlled by astronaut Leland Melvin, a former wide receiver and NFL draft pick.

Columbus allowed the almost 10-year-old space station to be expanded to eight rooms, attaching to the Harmony compartment that arrived last fall. In the Spring, Japan's new lab will also be joined to Harmony compartment.

The 10 astronauts aboard the shuttle will have to wait until next Tuesday before entering Columbus. Additional work on the lab's exterior will be performed during a second spacewalk on Wednesday and a third on Friday. Unless flight surgeons object, Schlegel is expected to make Wednesday's spacewalk, along with Walheim, according to Associated Press.

On Monday, Walheim and Love ended up falling behind. After removing protective covers from Columbus, plugging in a grappling pin for the robot arm, and completing some other chores, they stopped to rest as the spacewalk dragged on. Overall, the process lasted eight hours, 1 1/2 hours longer than planned.

"Man, you guys have done an amazing job," shuttle commander Stephen Frick told the weary spacewalkers at the six-hour mark. "We're looking out our window here at Columbus, about halfway there."


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