Shuttle crew on European tour
The STS-122 Shuttle crew visited ESA’s research and technology centre, ESTEC, last week to share experiences of their February mission to deliver the European Columbus laboratory into orbit. Introducing his crew, Commander Stephen Frick said, “It was very special for us as Americans to have such an interesting and intriguing part in the Columbus module’s trip to space.”
The six crewmembers to visit ESTEC included ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel, for whom, as a European, assignment to this mission was the dream of a lifetime, “It is an honour, a pure joy, and of course it is a responsibility to take up this mission – I couldn’t have been luckier.” Schlegel also had a word of thanks for the many people on the ground who worked on Columbus. “All your dedication and hard work really paid off, it made our job easy. Our thanks today really goes to you,” he said.
For first-time flyer and STS-122 pilot Alan Poindexter there were many high points during the mission including the thrill of seeing Columbus come out of the Shuttle's payload bay and being attached to the International Space Station. But one experience stands out above the rest.
“It would have to be the launch,” said Poindexter. “What an exhilarating experience to sit in the pilot seat of the Shuttle. It is absolutely just indescribable - the feeling of power and thrust that you have in that magnificent machine. If you ever get the opportunity, I would recommend it!”
After arriving at the ISS, the crew were invited for dinner on the orbital outpost. “I felt like I was in someone’s home,” recalled STS-122 Mission Specialist Leland Melvin. “There was a warm pleasant smell - a nice aroma. There was music playing and we all just had a wonderful time as an international family. That first night was really remarkable.”
By all accounts the mission was action-packed starting first thing in the morning through to the last moments before bedtime. NASA astronaut Stanley Love described how after one week in orbit he finally managed to take a moment to look out the window down at Earth. “You don’t really know what the word planet means until you have seen it from 200 miles up – absolutely breathtaking!”
For Frick the highlight of the mission came only once Space Shuttle Atlantis was back on Earth. “As the Commander you spend the whole mission worrying about how we are going to make it through the 13-day marathon, so it kind of goes by as a whirlwind. When we came to a stop on the runway I felt a wave of relief and exhaustion come over me. We had managed to get Columbus on orbit and then we had got home safely.”
The crew’s visit to ESTEC was just one leg of their postflight tour to Europe which took them to the European Astronaut Centre, in Cologne, Schlegel’s hometown of Aachen, and to Berlin where they attended the Berlin International Airshow (ILA) and met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
After a short stay in the Netherlands, the crew continued to Munich where they met with industry and paid a visit to the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, from where systems and payloads on board the Columbus laboratory are commanded and controlled.