The Italian Almanac

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International Space Station

Space Lab

The orbiting International Space Station (ISS) will become a fully operative research facility this week with the addition of an Italian-built laboratory. The Columbus lab, the biggest single addition to the ISS, was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and built in Italy by Thales Alenia Space, formerly Alenia Space. It will be delivered to the ISS in a shuttle mission set to blast off on Thursday from Cape Canaveral, in Florida.

''Columbus is the biggest laboratory that Europe has sent into space. With its addition the ISS will be almost completed and will be fully operational as a research facility,'' observed Giovanni Bignami, chairman of the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

Thales Alenia Space contributed the primary module for the Columbus lab which was based on the technology it developed for the Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules, or MPLMs, which were sent to the ISS in the last shuttle mission. While the MPLMs are considered to be 'space moving vans', the Columbus module contains an entire suite of scientific laboratories in its 75 cubic meters of space. The Italian company also contributed two of the five internal payload racks for the Columbus, while Italy's Carlo Gavazzi Space built one of the two external racks.

The Columbus lab will be connected to the ISS through the Italian-made Node 2, which was built by Thales Alenia Space on a ASI. Node 2, also known as 'Harmony', was the primary payload of last fall's Esperia Mission which saw the participation of Paolo Nespoli, the third Italian astronaut to take part in an ISS mission after Umberto Guidoni in April 2000 and Roberto Vittori in 2002. Node 2 was designed to be a connecting passageway not only for the European lab but also for the American Destiny and the Japanese Kibo laboratories.