The International Space Station (ISS) will soon welcome a new astronaut when Leopold Eyharts of the ESA docks for the delivery and commissioning of the European Columbus laboratory, due this coming autumn. A member of the Expedition 16 crew to the ISS, the Frenchman will fly to the ISS on the Discovery Space Shuttle mission STS-122, and remain on board for two months. ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel of Germany, who has been with STS-122 since 2006, and five NASA crew members will accompany Eyharts on this mission.

With a great deal of hands-on experience, Eyharts will be instrumental in installing, activating and commissioning the ESA’s Columbus laboratory during this mission. He will test and run the systems of the Columbus module in orbit. Eyharts will act as flight engineer and support robotics activities during his mission. The French astronaut will be Europe’s first to test and run in-orbit the Columbus module’s systems, in addition to conducting onboard European science experiments.

The Columbus research laboratory, worth O1 million and a major part of the ISS’ research capability, will specialise in fluid physics, materials science and life sciences research. After a decade-long construction period, it will be permanently attached to the ISS. Its pressurised module is fitted with 10 interchangeable payload racks, offering internal payload accommodation for research experiments for a period of 10 years. It also has an external payload facility that hosts experiments and applications for space science, technology and Earth observation.

The laboratory is a cylinder of aluminium alloy, 4.5 metres wide and 6.7 metres long. The size of each payload rack resembles a telephone booth and can host its own autonomous and independent laboratory, with power and cooling systems.

Europe is overseeing two major components of the ISS: the Columbus Orbital Facility and the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). Columbus is the first-ever European laboratory targeting long-term research in space. Columbus will be transported to the ISS in the Shuttle’s cargo bay, along with five internal rack facilities: European Physiology Module facility; European Drawer Rack; European Transport Carrier; Fluid Science Laboratory; and Biolab. During the mission, the cargo bay will also carry two external experiment facilities for Columbus – SOLAR and EuTEF – that will be attached on the exterior of the Columbus module.

Eyharts’ maiden space mission was to the Russian space station Mir from 29 January to 19 February 1998 as an astronaut for CNES, the French space agency. He has been a member of the European Astronaut Corps since 1998. Eyharts will return to Earth with the STS-123 Endeavour crew, while Schegel will return two weeks after the launch.