The first module for the new International Space Station was successfully launched this morning (20 November) aboard a Russian Proton rocket at 07:40 CET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The rocket blasted off under overcast skies and strong winds, and disappeared behind the clouds within 40 seconds.
The 12 metre Zarya module reached orbit less than 10 minutes after blastoff. It will serve as a space propulsion engine and power station in the early stages of the project, providing propulsion, power and communications. When completed in 2004, the complex will be the largest ever structure in space, stretching over 100 metres and sprawling across an area the size of a football field.
ESA Director-General Antonio Rodotà, who watched the launch from about five km away, said: "This is the largest technological project to be undertaken jointly by the nations of the world in the history of mankind. For Europe it is the start of an exciting new era in space exploration."
The Space Station will serve as an orbital home for astronauts and cosmonauts for at least 15 years. As one of five international partners (together with the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada), ESA is contributing two major elements - the Columbus laboratory and an automatic transport spacecraft.
The first is a multi-purpose scientific and technological laboratory, to be added by the year 2003, and the second, known as the Automated Transfer Vehicle, is a transport vessel for launch by Europe's Ariane 5 on supply missions. Europe will take part in 19 of the 45 flights planned during the five-year assembly phase and is also supplying scientific and technical equipment to NASA and the Russian Space Agency.Once in operation European astronauts will be regular visitors.
ESA also announced today that it is to begin soliciting microgravity research proposals in physical sciences and biotechnology to be conducted on the International Space Station.
"The foundation stone for this unique international research and test centre in space has been laid today. Now it is important that Europe's best scientists and engineers make good use of it" declared ESA Director of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity, Jörg Feustel-Büechl, and explained that, "besides fundamental research, scientists are encouraged to consider projects that have industrial applications perspectives, and researchers from European industry are particularly welcome to apply".
The new Announcement of Opportunity for Microgravity Research Programmes and related Applications in Physical Sciences and Biotechnology is available on the Internet at :
http://www.estec.esa.int/spaceflight. For further information, please contact: ESA Public Relations Division Tel:+33.(0)1.5369.7155 Fax:+33.(0)1.5369.7690 1 2