December 2, 2007

Europe's space laboratory will be launched to the International Space Station

This week, after 25 years in the making, Europe's treasured space laboratory will be launched on a flight to the International Space Station. Scientists and engineers throughout Europe have been waiting for this moment since development of the $2 billion lab began in 1982. The lab is set to go up Thursday with a crew of seven aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. The 17-nation European Space Agency, or ESA, signed up for NASA's space station project with the intent of launching Columbus in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' famed sailing.

But NASA got bogged down, and the first piece of the space station wasn't launched until 1998. It was also slow going by partner Russia, and the first crew did not take up residence until 2000. Construction ceased in orbit when Columbia was destroyed during re-entry in 2003, and did not resume until 2005. Continued foam loss problems with NASA's shuttle fuel tanks further stalled the process. Once last month's space station mission ended successfully, and the shuttle Discovery was home safe, NASA managers were bombarded with congratulatory messages from European colleagues eager to get their own mission under way.

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