Cape Canaveral
, Fla. —

NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour rolled out to launch pad 39A Feb. 18 in preparation for its planned March 11 launch. Along with the STS-123 crew, Endeavour will deliver the first segment of Japan’s Kibo laboratory to the international space station (ISS).

This first segment of Kibo, built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, contains a vital avionics package, and at

3.9 meters

long and

4.4 meters in diameter

it is the smaller of two pressurized modules. Kibo’s main section and robotic arm are set to launch aboard the following shuttle mission scheduled for April.

Endeavour’s STS-123 mission is the second of up to six shuttle flights planned for 2008,

five of which are dedicated to

ISS construction


The first shuttle flight of the year landed safely back on Earth Feb. 20

after a successful mission to deliver Europe’s first permanent orbital laboratory to the



With shuttle commander Stephen Frick at the helm, Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here

at 9:07 a.m. EST

. The shuttle’s return cleared the way for the U.S. military to shoot down a falling spy satellite the size of a bus.

Frick and his crew ferried a new crewmember to the station during their 13-day mission. They also delivered the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Columbus laboratory, a 1.4 billion euro ($2.1 billion)

research module that represents Europe’s largest contribution to



Returning to Earth aboard Atlantis with Frick were shuttle pilot Alan Poindexter, mission specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Love, Dan Tani and German astronaut Hans Schlegel, representing the ESA. French astronaut Leopold Eyharts launched with Atlantis’ STS-122 mission, but stayed aboard the ISS after relieving Tani as a member of the station’s Expedition 16 crew.

The successful landing

gave the U.S. military a clear shot to launch a missile at a dead reconnaissance satellite from a Navy cruiser in the Pacific Ocean. Pentagon officials pledged to wait until Atlantis was safely home before destroying the out-of-control spy satellite to avoid endangering the public on Earth with the spacecraft’s toxic half-ton load of hydrazine rocket fuel. (see related story, page 8)

Europe’s Columbus lab is a 10-ton cylinder that added a new 7-meter-long room to the ISS. The module’s arrival also marked the activation of a new Mission Control center near Munich, Germany, where flight controllers now oversee the new laboratory 24 hours a day.

“I consider it the beginning of manned spaceflight for Europe,” Schlegel said during the mission. “We have the opportunity to do experiments around the clock, all year.”

will spend the next month activating a set of science experiment racks inside Columbus while flight controllers commission two external payloads installed by Atlantis spacewalkers. ESA officials also are gearing up to launch Jules Verne, the agency’s first Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo tug, to the ISS in early March.

In addition to the upcoming ISS-dedicated shuttle flights,

NASA hopes to launch Atlantis again in late August on the final mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle set down

Feb. 20, 46 years to the day NASA launched its first-ever manned orbital flight, with Mercury astronaut John Glenn circling the Earth three times before landing to conclude the third manned U.S. spaceflight.