Columbus Sets Sail
A cut-away illustration of the Columbus laboratory with crew members working inside

Space station crew members will work on experiments housed in 10 racks in the Columbus laboratory. Image Credit: ESA-D. Ducros

Scheduled to launch in early February 2008 on space shuttle Atlantis, the STS-122 mission will kick off a series of flights that will broaden the global contributions to the International Space Station. In the coming months, the space station will grow in size and capability with new components from Europe, Japan and Canada.

STS-122 will be the 24th shuttle mission to the space station and will carry the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory module. It will be mated with the Harmony node that was installed on the space station by the STS-120 crew in October.

Columbus is ESA's largest single contribution to the station. It is approximately 23 feet long and 15 feet wide, and has 2,600 cubic feet of space -- about the size of school bus. The laboratory has room for 10 racks of experiments -- eight on the walls and two on the ceiling. Each rack is about the size of a phone booth. Experiments will be conducted outside the lab also, on four exterior mounting platforms.

The design of the Columbus laboratory is very similar to modules used aboard the space shuttle to carry equipment, experiments and supplies to and from the space station. The basic structure and the life-support systems of the modules and Columbus are the same because they were all built by the Italian Space Agency.

The seven STS-122 crew members wearing training versions of their orange shuttle launch and entry suits

The STS-122 crew members are (from left) Leland Melvin, Stephen Frick, Rex Walheim, Leopold Eyharts, Stanley Love, Alan Poindexter and Hans Schlegel. Image Credit: NASA

Columbus, named for the early explorer of the same name, will allow researchers on the ground and space station crew members to conduct thousands of experiments in life sciences, material sciences, fluid physics and other fields of research in a weightless environment not possible on Earth. The laboratory's projected lifespan is 10 years.

The laboratory will support biology experiments and investigations into the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. The results will also help researchers understand specific health problems on Earth. Experiments in material and fluid science could benefit life on Earth by discovering better ways to clean up oil spills or improving the manufacture of optical lenses.

The crew of STS-122 includes two ESA astronauts. Hans Schlegel of Germany is a mission specialist. This will be Schlegel's second spaceflight, during which he will conduct at least two spacewalks to install and power up Columbus and then position two science experiments on the module's exterior.

The STS-122 mission patch features the names of the crew members, an old sailing ship and a space shuttle

The STS-122 mission patch depicts a ship, representing the travels of early explorers, and the space shuttle, showing the continuation of that journey into space. Image Credit: NASA

Leopold Eyharts of France will launch with the STS-122 crew and join the space station crew as an Expedition 16 flight engineer. Eyharts' first spaceflight was in 1998 on Russia's Mir space station. This will be his first trip into space on the space shuttle and his first mission to the International Space Station. Eyharts will perform a large part of the activation and initial commissioning activities of Columbus. He is scheduled to return to Earth with the STS-123 space shuttle crew in February 2008.

The commander of the STS-122 crew is Steve Frick, and the pilot is Alan Poindexter. Mission specialists are Rex Walheim, Stanley Love, Leland Melvin and Schlegel. Frick and Walheim flew together on the STS-110 space shuttle mission in 2002. It will be the first spaceflight for Poindexter, Love and Melvin.

Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Dan Tani, who flew to the station on the STS-120 mission, will return home on Atlantis with the STS-122 crew.

The STS-122 mission is an important step in NASA’s long-term plan for space exploration. NASA plans to complete the space station and retire the space shuttle in 2010, and to continue exploring Earth's solar system with new vehicles. The station serves as a place to learn about living and working in space, which are vital for future human missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Related Resources
Columbus Laboratory  →
International Space Station
NASA Education Web Site  →

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services