Atlantis space shuttle was launched on Thursday from its seaside Florida launch pad, at about 2:45 p.m. EST, making the mission successful after a two failed attempts last year in December and uncertainty of the weather before the launch that would have halted the mission for the third time.
The shuttle will deliver a $1.9 billion European science laboratory to the International Space Station, scheduled to arrive on Saturday.
Columbus has discovered a new world and I think that with Columbus we are discovering a totally new world, said Jean Jacques Dordain, ESA director general.
We finally have our own real estate on orbit, said Alan Thirkettle, ESA's space station program manager.
Europe was relying on other countries to operate experiments in orbit for about 25 years, but the launch of Columbus will allow it to have a permanent space lab for a variety of biological, physiological, fluid physics and other experiments.
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The seven crew members of Atlantis included two Europeans; Hans Schlegal, a German and veteran of a 1993 shuttle research mission, and Leopold Eyharts from France, who spent three weeks aboard Russia's Mir space station in 1998.
Eyharts will stay aboard the space station to begin running science experiments in Columbus replacing Dan Tani, an American flight engineer who will fly home with Schlegel and five U.S. astronauts aboard Atlantis.