The Columbus laboratory, of who Thales Alenia Space is the main contributor, has been launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Atlantis (the shuffle) will dock at the International Space Station after a journey of two days. The European Space Agency’s Columbus, a multi-purpose pressurised module with an estimated decade of operational life, is the first European long-term research laboratory in a microgravity environment. The micrometeoritic protection system (MDPS: Meteorite and Debris Protection System), the active and passive Thermal Control System (TCS), the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), the harness and all related Ground Support Equipments (GSE) was controlled by Thales Alenia Space. They also contributed to some of the functionality of the main system, including sub-system and payload control, cabin atmosphere control, temperature control, and the fire surveillance system.
NASA has revealed that the crew has been extremely busy on their first day, and that the heat shield for Atlantis is being inspected with the use of a robotic arm that will view the underside, nose cap, and leading wing edges. Flight Engineer Daniel Tani will also be replaced by ESA astronaut Leopold Eyharts, for a stay aboard the International Space Station. Other preparations at the ISS include an extension for the docking ring on the shuttle, and tools check out for a link-up with the station.