Europe’s Station Lab in Space 10 Years; Crew Studies Eyes and Muscles

Columbus Lab Module
ESA’s Columbus lab module is pictured (clockwise from top left) in the grips of the Canadarm2 before its installation at the station; being serviced during a spacewalk by astronaut Randy Bresnik; close-up of Columbus attached to the starboard side of the Harmony module; attached to Harmony.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is celebrating today the 10th anniversary of the launch of its Columbus lab module aboard space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station. Now Columbus is one of three lab modules supporting hundreds of advanced microgravity science experiments. The other two modules are Destiny from NASA and Kibo from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

To commemorate today’s event, ESA’s former Director of Human Spaceflight Feustel Beuchl called up to astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei today and asked about the status of Columbus operations. Scientists Lars Karlsson and Alexander Stahn inquired about a pair of ESA-sponsored experiments researching airway inflammation and circadian rhythms.

Wednesday’s science onboard the station looked at how living in space affects vision and muscles. Two cosmonauts used special optical equipment to peer inside each other’s eyes this morning. The astronauts on the U.S. side of the orbital lab observed mice being treated with a drug to combat muscle weakening in space and on Earth.

Commander Alexander Misurkin and Flight Engineer Anton Shkaplerov started their day checking the condition of their retinas using optical coherence tomography (OCT) gear. OCT uses light waves to measure and map the thickness of the retina’s layers. Results will help doctors understand how living in space long-term physically affects the eyes and vision.

Astronauts Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai were back in the U.S. Destiny lab module today studying a drug that may prevent muscle atrophy in space and help patients on Earth with muscle ailments. Mice living on the station for up to two months are treated with the muscle maintenance drug. The mice are returned to Earth aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for analysis to determine the drug’s effectiveness.