As the European Space Agency's largest single contribution to the space station, the research laboratory module supports scientific and technological research in the microgravity environment of space. The physical design and layout of the Columbus laboratory is not unlike the three multi-purpose logistics modules (MPLM) built by the Italian Space Agency and used for transporting scientific experiments, materials and supplies to the station via the space shuttles.
Columbus is about 23 feet long and 15 feet wide, allowing it to hold 10 "racks" of experiments, each approximately the size of a phone booth. Each rack provides independent controls for power and cooling, as well as communication links to earthbound controllers and researchers. These links will allow scientists all over Europe to participate in their own experiments in space from several user centers and, in some cases, even from their own work locations.
The Columbus laboratory's flexibility provides room for the researchers on the ground, aided by the station's crew, to conduct thousands of experiments in life sciences, materials sciences, fluid physics and other research in a weightless environment not possible on Earth.
In addition, the station crew can conduct experiments outside the module within the vacuum of space, thanks to four exterior mounting platforms that can accommodate external payloads. With a clear view of Earth and the vastness of space, external experiments can run the gamut from the microscopic world of bacteria to the limitlessness of space.
The control center for the work conducted in the Columbus laboratory is located in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. From there, ground controllers can communicate with the module as the space station orbits the Earth, as well as with researchers across Europe and their partners in the United States and Russia.