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Columbus laboratory (cutaway view)
Cutaway view of Columbus laboratory

Columbus

The International Space Station (ISS) is used for many scientific experiments. Taking advantage of weightlessness conditions in orbit, scientists are able to study many things that cannot easily be studied on Earth.

The Columbus lab is ESA's main contribution to the ISS. About 6.5 metres long and 4.5 metres wide, the cylinder-shaped lab enables up to three astronauts to work in pleasant, shirtsleeve conditions. Along the walls are 16 racks of experiments, storage and other equipment.

These include:

  • Biolab, where experiments take place on cell tissues, small plants and animals
  • A Fluid Science Laboratory, in which scientists study the behaviour of liquids in weightlessness
  • A facility to study the properties of metals
  • Modules where the effects of microgravity on the human body are studied
Other experiments are placed on platforms outside Columbus. Some of these are used to expose samples of different materials or bacteria to the harsh conditions of space. Others take pictures of the Earth, Sun or distant galaxies.

Columbus was delivered to the ISS by Shuttle Atlantis and attached to the Harmony module on 11 February 2008. Two ESA astronauts, Léopold Eyharts of France and Hans Schlegel of Germany, were on board to install and activate the lab. Schlegel carried out two spacewalks to assist in the move to Harmony. Eyharts stayed on board the Station for about two months to test Columbus’ systems and start its first science experiments. More information on Columbus can be found at: www.esa.int/columbus

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