NASA mission STS-122 will introduce a new technological innovation to the International Space Station, courtesy of NASA’s partner in the mission, the European Space Agency. The new addition, Columbus, will attach to ISS and serve as a laboratory in which astronauts on the space station will engage in several different kinds of scientific experiments.
“What goes up tomorrow is an operating laboratory,” said Alan Thirkettle, the ESA’s International Space Station program manager, in a Dec. 5 press conference, “it doesn’t have to be outfitted, it’s all ready to go and ready to start work.”
The Columbus laboratory weighs approximately 13 tons, with two tons used specifically for scientific facilities, including over 1,102 pounds of scientific instruments. The laboratory has twenty experiments on it’s agenda, some of which will begin within the first few days of the mission. Experiments will be done in a variety of different scientific disciplines, such as biology, fluid science, and the study of human physiology. The goal of these experiments is not only to improve the quality of life in space, but here on Earth as well.
“We want to use this station to improve the lives our citizens,” Thirkettle said.
The program itself has cost the ESA approximately five billion euros to date, which translates to approximately seven billion US dollars. The program was paid for through the combined efforts of 10 different European countries, with Germany contributing the highest with 30 percent of the funding. France was the second highest contributer, funding 25 percent of the program, and Italy contributed 17 percent.
In addition to the Columbus, the ESA will also be introducing the Automated Transfer Vehicle, a new kind of re-supply ship for ISS, the first of which will be launched in early 2008. The ATV will contain five different kinds of cargo for re-supplying the space station, including up to 5.5 tons of dry cargo and one ton of water. Once the ATV engages to ISS, astronauts can open the hatch and retrieve supplies from the inside of the vehicle. After the transfer is made, the vehicle will make its way back to Earth.