By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
February 8, 2008
The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis blasted into orbit Thursday with Europe’s gift to the international space station, a $2 billion science lab named Columbus.
The lab is filled with racks for experiments and research euipment and has fixtures on its exterior to host research exposed to the vacuum of space. The lab represents the latest international addition to a facility already made of structures from the United States, Russia and Canada.
“It shows that there is a real partnership between communities,” NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said.
Atlantis before the launch of
STS-115, August 29, 2006.
The launch followed a two month delay due to problems with fuel guages.
Yet this terrific national and international achievement of nations working together to venture into space and even live there seemed to be overlooked by most Americans.
The Fox News Channel televised the launch live, but viewers of other networks blissfully watched normal programming. NBC aired Ellen Degeneris and ABC and CBS featured soap operas.
The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams did cover the shuttle mission: for exactly 28 seconds.The Washington Post editions of February 8 featured a picture with a caption — but no article and no crew names.
One was reminded of the scene in the Tom Hanks movie “Apollo 13” when the networks ignored a TV feed from space.
The shuttle launch on February 7, 2008
Americans seemed to yawn.
But this shuttle mission, like each and every one of them, is a technological marvel and a wonder of experimentation and scientific achievement. And men (and women) risk their lives in this process: high drama indeed.
The brave crew of space shuttle Atlantis departs their quarters for the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida February 7, 2008. Clockwise from left are Pilot Alan Poindexter, Leland Melvin, Stanley Love, France’s Leopold Eyharts, Germany’s Hans Schlegel, Rex Walheim and Mission Commander Stephen Frick. Mission STS-122 will take Atlantis to the International Space Station.
REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES)
The two billion dollar science lab inside Atlantis is Columbus. Columbus, built by Europeans, will join the U.S. lab, Destiny, which was launched aboard Atlantis exactly seven years ago.
The much bigger Japanese lab Kibo, or Hope, will require three shuttle flights to get off the ground, beginning in March.
Atlantis’ commander, Stephen Frick, and his U.S., German and French crew will reach the space station on Saturday and begin installing Columbus the very next day. Three spacewalks are planned during the flight, scheduled to last 11 or, more likely, 12 days.
“We’re looking forward to doing our part to bring it up to Peggy Whitson and her crew on the international space station, and start its good work and many, many years of science,” Frick said before launch.
Besides Columbus, Atlantis will drop off a new space station resident, French Air Force Gen. Leopold Eyharts, who will swap places with NASA astronaut Daniel Tani and get Columbus working. Tani will return to Earth aboard the shuttle, ending a mission of nearly four months.
Eyharts will move into the space station for a little more than a month, replacing NASA astronaut Daniel Tani. He plans to help continue setting up and activating the Columbus module, Europe’s primary contribution to the space station.
The astronauts awoke Friday to “Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel, a dedication to French Air Force Gen. Leopold Eyharts from his wife and family.
Eyharts greeted his loved ones in English and French, saying, “I know it has been a somehow hard day for them and I want to thank them.”
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
Some of the technological wonder of NASA was on display Friday morning. The NASA TV channel and MS NBC broadcast an interview with International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani.
Astronaut Tani’s Mother died while he was aboard the ISS and NASA sent to him an audio and visual feed of her funeral service.
To NASA’s relief, all four fuel gauges in Atlantis’ external fuel tank worked properly during the final stage of the countdown. The gauges failed back in December because of a faulty connector, and NASA redesigned the part to fix the problem, which had been plaguing the shuttles for three years.
NASA was anxious to get Atlantis flying as soon as possible to keep alive its hopes of achieving six launches this year. The space agency faces a 2010 deadline for finishing the station and retiring the shuttles. That equates to four or five shuttle flights a year between now and then, something NASA Administrator Michael Griffin considers achievable.
“Today we are opening a new chapter for ESA,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the European Space Agency director general yesterday. “Just as Columbus discovered the New World, with Columbus, we are discovering a whole new world.”
(AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Atlantis is scheduled to remain operational until 2010, but is not currently scheduled for any missions beyond 2008.