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New space lab coming alive

Latest update : 2008-02-13

The crew of astronauts on board the International SpaceStation are celebrating a job well done.They have succeeded in getting europe's space laboratory; known as "Colombus", up and running. (Report: J.Jackson)

HOUSTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Astronauts on the International
Space Station slowly brought Europe's new space laboratory to
life on Tuesday as crewmate Hans Schlegel, forced by illness to
miss the spacewalk to install it, said he was feeling fine.

The lab, known as Columbus, was hooked up with computers,
power and a heating system ahead of activation of experiments
in Europe's first permanent space research facility.

"This is a great moment," French astronaut Leopold Eyharts
radioed to ground controllers in Houston and Munich before
entering the module for the first time.

"We are very proud," added Schlegel of Germany. "It starts
a new era. The European scientific module Columbus and the ISS
are connected for many, many years of research in space in
cooperation, internationally."

The 23-foot-long (7-metre-long) laboratory, equipped for
medical, pharmaceutical and physics experiments, is Europe's
prime contribution of a $5 billion investment in the space
station program.

After years of delay, it launched on Thursday from Florida
aboard space shuttle Columbus and was attached to the station
on Monday during an eight-hour spacewalk.

Schlegel, 56, was to join Rex Walheim on the spacewalk but
had to be replaced by Stan Love due to an illness that has not
been disclosed.

He said in a media interview on Tuesday he was doing well
and looking forward to taking part in the second spacewalk of
Atlantis' mission on Wednesday.

"I feel really great right now. Of course I'm a little bit
anxious because tomorrow is really my first (spacewalk)," said
a fit-looking Schlegel.

"That's all I want to say because medical issues are
private," Schlegel said, hewing to the non-disclosure line
taken by NASA and the European Space Agency.

On Wednesday, he and Walheim are to replace a spent
nitrogen tank used to pressurize the station's coolant system.

Walheim and Love are scheduled to make the third and final
spacewalk of the mission on Friday. Atlantis is currently
scheduled to return to Earth on Feb. 19.

NASA had been looking at a loose insulation blanket on one
of Atlantis' steering engines to see if needed repair before
landing but told the astronauts on Tuesday not to worry.

"Good news," flight communicator Kevin Ford at Mission
Control told shuttle commander Stephen Frick. "The analysis
clearly shows there's no safety of flight issue. So the area
has officially been cleared for entry."

"It's a relief to know we don't have to go back there and
mess with it," said Frick.

NASA is almost 60 percent finished building the $100
billion outpost. During the next shuttle flight scheduled for
launch March 11, astronauts are to begin installing what will
be the station's largest laboratory, the Japanese-built Kibo

NASA has just two years to compete the 11 remaining station
construction and resupply flights before the shuttle fleet is
retired in 2010.

Date created : 2008-02-13