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 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 11:45 GMT
Shuttle to take lab into space
Columbia
All launches at the KSC are high-security events
The space shuttle Columbia is preparing to leave Earth on Thursday with its payload bay filled with a special pressurised laboratory.

The mission is due to launch between 1500 and 1900 GMT from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

It will last 16 days and is focusing principally on scientific experiments in microgravity.

The crew of seven will work in shifts for 24 hours each day to complete an extensive programme of tests.

Shuttle first

The mission involves the first astronaut from Israel, payload specialist Ilan Ramon.

Ilan Ramon, Nasa
Ilan Ramon: First Israeli astronaut
The shuttle will not be docking with the International Space Station (ISS).

However, the mission could be of great benefit to the station, as it will test a new technology which could enable the permanent recycling of water there.

The so-called Spacehab laboratory riding on the orbiter will be the venue for experiments on combustion in microgravity.

Bees and ants

The scientists will also be looking at a number of experiments involving the compression of granular materials which may help improve construction techniques.

Spacehab, Nasa
Heading for space: The shuttle's lab
Many other experiments will examine physiological changes in the human body as a result of microgravity.

Cell cultures will be grown on the shuttle to see how these respond to the off-Earth environment.

Other projects, from students in several countries, involve examining the effects of spaceflight on spiders, silkworms, fish, bees and ants.

See also:

09 Jan 02 | Health
12 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
08 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
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