Space Shuttle to Launch New European Lab Today

Space Shuttle to Launch New European Lab Today
Following rollback of the rotating service structure, or RSS, on Launch Pad 39A, Space Shuttle Atlantis stands bathed in lights atop a mobile launch platform on Dec. 5, 2007. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. ? Seven astronauts and NASA?s shuttle Atlantis are poised torocket into space today to carry a European laboratory to its new orbital homeat International Space Station (ISS).

Shuttlecommander Stephen Frick and six crewmates plan to make an an afternoon launchfrom their seaside pad here at the Kennedy Space Center to haul the EuropeanSpace Agency?s (ESA) Columbus lab to the ISS.

?Obviouslyit?s been a real long training flow for us, a long time building to thismoment,? Frick told reporters earlier this week. ?We?re absolutely ready to go.?

Atlantis?STS-122 crew is counting down toward a planned 4:31 p.m. EST (2131 GMT) liftoff,with current forecasts predicting a 90 percent chance of clear skies overAtlantis? Pad 39 launch site.

Launchingspaceward with Frick will be shuttle pilot Alan Poindexter; mission specialistsLeland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Love and ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel andLeopold Eyharts. Poindexter, Melvin and Love will begin their first career spaceflightswhen Atlantis lifts off.

?I?m tryingto suppress it a little bit before the engines light up,? Melvin said in a NASAinterview. ?But it?s very exciting.?

Frick andhis crewmates planto install Columbus, swap out one member of the station?s Expedition 16crew and attach new experiments and hardware outside the ISS during the threespacewalks planned for their 11-day mission. If Atlantis? power supplies holdout, the STS-122 flight could be extended by two more days to allow an extraspacewalk to inspect a balky station solar array joint.

Europe?s orbital lab

For ESAofficials, today?s planned launch is the culmination of more than 20 years ofeffort to build and fly the 1.4 billion Euro ($2 billion) Columbuslaboratory. The 13-ton research module will be attached to the station?s hub-likeHarmony node during the STS-122 mission.

?It?s veryimportant for us to get the module on orbit and to have, then, the opportunityfor our astronauts to fly,? said Alan Thirkettle, space station program managerfor the ESA. ?We?re very excited, we?re very proud and we?re really lookingforward to it.?

Eyharts andSchlegel will christen Columbus for the ESA during STS-122, with Eyhartsstaying aboard the ISS as the agency?s first long-duration astronaut to liveand work inside the new laboratory. The veteranFrench astronaut will replace U.S. spaceflyer Dan Tani, an Expedition 16flight engineer who will return to Earth aboard Atlantis when it lands on Dec.17.

?This is areally great time,? Eyharts said in an interview. ?We are starting now to havethe international partner modules.?

Atlantis?STS-122 mission will mark NASA?s fourth shuttle flight of the year and thesecond to haul a new orbital room to the ISS.

NASA mustlaunch Atlantis by Dec. 13 in order to deliver Columbus to the ISS before theangles between the station?s power-generating solar arrays and the sun becomeunfavorable to support docked operations. If the shuttle cannot launch by thewindow?s close, NASA would likely wait until Jan. 2 to make another attempt,mission managers have said.

?We onlyhave a week of launch window, so we?re really excited to launch on the firsttry,? Frick said.

NASAwill broadcast Atlantis' STS-122 mission live on NASA TV beginning at 11:30a.m. EST (1630 GMT). Click herefor's shuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.

  • Video Interplayer: NASA's STS-122: Columbus Sets Sail for ISS
  • IMAGES: Discovery's STS-120 Mission in Pictures
  • VIDEO: ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.