European flavour to international Space Shuttle flight Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off today at 16:49 Central European Summer Time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a 16 day (STS 78) life sciences and microgravity mission. The orbiter carries a seven-member international crew and its cargo bay is fitted with Spacelab (*). More than half of the experiments on board are under ESA's responsibility and are housed in five main ESA research facilities.
The key objectives of the Life and Microgravity Spacelab (LMS) mission are to study the effects of almost complete absence of gravity (microgravity) on the physiology, development and behaviour of living systems and to study fluid physics, material processing and the growth of protein crystals.
ESA-developed experiments and facilities for this mission include the Bubble, Drop and Particle Unit, the Advanced Protein Crystalliszation facility, the Advanced Gradient Heating Facility and the Torque Velocity Dynamometer.
The seven-strong Shuttle crew further reflects the international nature of this mission: Jean-Jacques Favier, an astronaut from the French space agency CNES with the role of payload specialist on this mission, and Robert Thirsk, also payload specialist from the Canadian Space Agency, complement the five NASA crew members. ESA astronaut Pedro Duque, from Spain, and Luca Urbani of the Italian space agency ASI are back-ups for the flight.
The mission involves dozens of scientists and research institutes with principal investigators from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
(*) Spacelab - designed, developed and funded by ESA as Europe's contribution to NASA's Space Shuttle system - provides astronauts with an environment similar to laboratory conditions on Earth but without the effects of gravity.