Columbus was flown to Florida on 30 May 2006. Earlier this year, it was removed from temporary storage, and the 12.8 tonne International Space Station (ISS) module is now fully outfitted with its experiment racks and orbital hardware. At the moment, engineers are installing the trunnions that will secure the 4.5 metre diameter aluminium cylinder in the Shuttle payload bay. The next step is to mount the panels that will protect the lab from potentially damaging micrometeorite impacts.
After a summer break, the Columbus hatch will be reopened at the beginning of October, when it will undergo final preparations for flight, including leak checks on the water cooling system, a pressurisation check and the switching on of electrical systems. Once the seals are in position on the module’s docking mechanism, it will be placed inside a canister for transport to the launch pad.
"The launch of Columbus will be a major landmark in European space exploration," said Bernardo Patti, Columbus Project Manager. "Columbus was originally scheduled for launch in 2002, but delays in the construction of the ISS and the tragic loss of Shuttle Columbia have put back the mission five years.
"Once Columbus is operational, we will have a permanent presence on the Station. We will own our own real estate. By providing the Automated Transfer Vehicle and Columbus, ESA will be able to meet its scientific objectives as a full partner, sharing resources with other ISS participants rather than simply purchasing them."
Columbus will not be the only representative of ESA on the STS-122 Shuttle flight. The crew of seven will include ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel and Léopold Eyharts. Schlegel will play a key role in two spacewalks during which he will help to install and power up Columbus and then position two scientific payloads on the module’s exterior. While Léopold Eyharts will perform a large part of the activation and initial commissioning activities.
After the Shuttle heads for home, Eyharts and the other members of the resident ISS crew will complete the commissioning of the laboratory and conduct its first scientific experiments.
Markus Bauer | alfa
Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
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Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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