Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Basque Astronaut

Today at EITb:


International space station

First Basque astronaut to install new laboratory Columbus


Columbus is the most important European mission to date and the cornerstone of Europe's contribution to the ISS.

NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis Flight STS-122 is scheduled to launch on Thursday 6th December 2007 from flight pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The STS-122 Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will deliver and install the European science laboratory Columbus. The Shuttle's crew of seven includes ESA German astronaut Hans Schlegel and ESA first Basque astronaut Leopold Eyharts, both on their second spaceflights.

Columbus is the most important European mission to date and the cornerstone of Europe's contribution to the ISS. Once launched and operational, ESA will become a co-owner of mankind's only permanent outpost in space. As the first European laboratory devoted to long-term research in space, Columbus will further expand the science capabilities of the International Space Station. The 7 meter long and 12.8-tonne laboratory will provide internal payload accommodation for experiments in the field of multidisciplinary research into material science, fluid physics and life science. In addition its external payload facility hosts experiments and applications in the field of space science, Solar science, Earth observation and technology.

Columbus will be transported into Earth orbit in the Shuttle's cargo bay, together with five internal rack facilities (Biolab, the Fluid Science Laboratory, the European Physiology Modules, the European Drawer Rack and the European Transport Carrier). Two of its external experiment facilities (EuTEF and SOLAR) will be stowed separately in the Shuttle's cargo bay and attached to the outside of the laboratory module structure.

ESA German astronaut Hans Schlegel will play a key role in two of the three spacewalks or EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) scheduled for the mission. During the mission's first EVA Schlegel will help to install and power up the laboratory. Just hours after opening the hatch between the laboratory and the ISS some of Columbus' multidisciplinary science facilities will start research operations. On his second EVA, Schlegel will remove and replace a Nitrogen Tank Assembly. EuTEF and SOLAR will be installed during the third EVA. After 12 days in space Hans Schlegel will return to Earth with Shuttle STS-122, while Leopold Eyharts will remain on the ISS for a further two months.

During his stay on the ISS Eyharts will play a key part in the installation, activation and in-orbit commissioning of Columbus and of its experimental facilities. He will become the first European astronaut to test and operate in-orbit all the systems of Columbus and the European science facilities and experiments carried on board. Because of his extended ISS stay, Eyharts is also likely to be onboard for the arrival of Jules Verne, Europe's first Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), an unmanned supply ship carrying 7.1 tonnes of cargo to the ISS, including food, air and water. Eyharts will return to Earth on Shuttle mission STS-123.

With the launch of Node-2 in October and the upcoming launch of Columbus, followed by the first launch of an ATV, Europe has entered into a new era as a partner in the ISS Programme. Europe will have taken up home in space, owning its share in the ISS, contributing to the logistics and having permanent access to science and research opportunities in orbit.

The Columbus and ATV control centres in Oberpfaffenhofen (Germany) and Toulouse (France) will become nerve centres of Europe's ISS operations. Moreover, the Columbus Control Centre is linked into a network of User Operations Centres across Europe, where scientists will be able to control their experiments and often even receive the data and results in real time via this unique networked infrastructure.

Two more ESA astronauts are already training for future missions to the ISS: Frank De Winne from Belgium (who is also the backup for Leopold Eyharts on flight STS-122) and Andrew Kuipers from the Netherlands are next in line for a stay of some two to three months on the ISS.

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