Patterico's Pontifications

12/6/2007

Atlantis Scheduled to Blast Off with European Science Module ‘Columbus’ (Updated)

Filed under: International — DRJ @ 9:54 am



[Guest post by DRJ]

UPDATE: Columbus will have to wait one more day. NASA has delayed Atlantis’ launch until Friday due to fuel sensor problems.

NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off today at 4:31 EST (3:31 CST) to deliver the European Space Agency’s science module Columbus to the International Space Station:

“Though no stranger to human spaceflight, Europe’s astronauts were eager on Wednesday to leap ahead with the launch of the continent’s first permanent home in Earth orbit.

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, ground crews readied the shuttle Atlantis to lift off with the European Space Agency’s school bus-size science module Columbus today at 3:31 p.m., Houston time. Crewed by seven U.S. and European astronauts, the shuttle will speed toward the international space station, where the fliers plan to install the lab named for the 15th century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, using robot-arm operations and three spacewalks.

“We are very excited and extremely proud of what is happening,” said Alan Thirkettle, manager of the European agency’s nearly quarter-century space station effort.

The new module gives the European alliance an unprecedented foothold in space.”

Europeans see the science module as a steppingstone to space:

“From the orbital lab, scientists and engineers can experiment with high-tech alloys and semiconductors and they can prepare for the human exploration of the moon and Mars.

Moreover, the Europeans hope that Columbus, their astronauts and other contributions to the station will symbolize Europe’s scientific achievements and industrial prowess on a grander scale.

“We will finally own a piece of the station as well as the opportunity to perform world-class research,” Thirkettle said. “The station is a steppingstone for us in the long-term objectives of the exploration of the moon, Mars and beyond.”

The science module Columbus was originally scheduled to deploy on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas:

“The Europeans hoped to launch Columbus in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the Americas, then in 2004, but those plans were thwarted by funding problems. The delays were extended, first when Russia joined the space station program after the collapse of the Soviet Union, then by the breakup of the shuttle Columbia in 2003.”

In exchange for NASA’s “overall management of the station, electricity and other utilities, U.S. researchers will have access to half of the new module.”

In summary: Europe is launching a science module named for Christopher Columbus for research and to secure Europe’s foothold in space. A tribute to Columbus coupled with a European claim to space? This sounds like a good project and a fitting link to the past but imagine the PC objections to honoring Columbus and Western imperialism if this had been an American project.

— DRJ

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