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Space Station's Columbus Lab in Ship Shape

HOUSTON — Europe's shiny new lab at the International Space Station (ISS) is in fine shape, according to the astronauts that delivered the new module.

The joint astronaut crews of the station and NASA's shuttle Atlantis said the European Space Agency's (ESA) Columbus lab was fully activated late Wednesday and performing well.

"It is a beautiful module," space station commander Peggy Whitson told Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel during a space-to-ground link early Thursday. "We're really happy to have it here."

Columbus, the ESA's largest contribution to the $100 billion space station, is a 23-foot (7-meter) long pressurized cylinder capable of carrying experiments on its outer hull and up to 16 racks of science and hardware inside its 14.7-foot (4.5-meter) wide interior.

A new ESA control center outside Munich, Germany is overseeing the 10-ton laboratory 24 hours a day.

Spacewalkers will attach two experiments to the 1.4 billion euro ($2 billion) module?s exterior on Friday as their crewmates continue moving interior racks and other hardware from launch positions into their final orbital flight configuration.

The 10 astronauts aboard the station and Atlantis appeared in NASA video to spend the bulk of their off-duty time Thursday continuing the commissioning of Columbus.

"The module is in place and it's hard to keep pace with Peggy and Yuri and Dan," said French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, of the ESA, of Whitson, ISS flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and shuttle astronaut Dan Tani. "I think Columbus will be ready really soon."

Eyharts, who launched aboard Atlantis with his crewmates on Feb. 7, replaced Tani as a member of the station's Expedition 16 crew and will oversee Columbus' outfitting after the shuttle undocks next week. Tani will return to Earth alongside Atlantis' STS-122 astronauts when they land on Feb. 20.

Commanded by veteran shuttle astronaut Stephen Frick, Atlantis' STS-122 crew is in the middle of a 13-day mission to deliver Columbus and Eyharts to the station. The shuttle is slated to undock on Monday.  

Aside from early cooling system issues and a computer command software glitch, which flight controllers fixed Wednesday, Columbus' activation has gone smoothly, mission managers said.

"Virtually everything has been going flawlessly," said NASA station flight director Bob Dempsey.

NASA is broadcasting Atlantis' STS-122 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for's shuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.

Tariq Malik Editor-in-chief

Tariq is the editor-in-chief of Live Science's sister site He joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, focusing on human spaceflight, exploration and space science. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times, covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University.