Countdown to Columbus launch
The countdown continues towards Thursday’s launch of the European Columbus laboratory on board Space Shuttle Atlantis. Weather forecasts for the launch site in Florida currently predict a 70 percent chance of unfavourable weather at launch time. Atlantis is scheduled for liftoff at 20:45 CET (19:45 UT).
A weather front which caused devastation overnight in other areas of the United States is predicted to move through Florida in the next days bringing low cloud cover and possibly lightning storms – both of which would delay the launch.
Should liftoff be delayed on Thursday, the forecast is slightly improved for Friday and Saturday with a 40 percent and 30 percent chance of unfavourable weather respectively.
Atlantis' main objective during its STS-122 mission to the International Space Station is to install and activate the Columbus laboratory, which will provide scientists around the world the ability to conduct a variety of life, physical and materials science experiments.
ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel and Léopold Eyharts are part of the STS-122 crew responsible for bringing Columbus into orbit. Schlegel will play a key role in two of the three spacewalks scheduled for the mission.
Eyharts will remain on board the ISS as a member of the permanent Expedition 16 crew – he will oversee the installation, activation and in-orbit commissioning of Columbus and its experiment facilities.
The Columbus launch was delayed early December 2007 following a failure in the External Tank's engine cut-off sensor system. The problem was located to a feed-through connector in the wall of the External Tank. NASA engineers have implemented a fix of the connector to resolve the problem.