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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Send-off for Europe's space lab
Columbus laboratory in its integration hall at Bremen, Germany   Image: EADS Space
Columbus is now ready to be shipped to Florida (Image: EADS Space)
The European element of the International Space Station is set to be shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it will be launched into orbit.

Officials and politicians gathered in Bremen, Germany, where the Columbus Laboratory is being readied, to give the module its official send-off.

Columbus is due to be carried to the space station on an upcoming US space shuttle mission.

The ceremony was attended by Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

At the end of May, Columbus will be flown from Bremen airport aboard a Beluga transport plane to the US space agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

On Tuesday, representatives from space agencies, industry and politics were joined by Chancellor Merkel to bid farewell to the 13-tonne space laboratory.

Shuttle delays

"It is a small, but important sector where a country like Germany, which is known as a land of high technology and leading science, stands up very, very well," Mrs Merkel said.

Also in attendance was the European Space Agency's director-general, Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Chancellor Angela Merkel at EADS Space Transportation in Bremen, Germany   Image: AFP/Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel bid the laboratory farewell
The 1bn-euro (680m) project was led by the Space Transportations unit of aerospace and defence contractor EADS and involved some 40 firms from 10 EU countries.

The laboratory is a cylindrical module designed to fit in the cargo bay of the US space shuttle. As such, delays to the space shuttle programme have complicated the European Space Agency's plans for Columbus. It is now due to fly aboard a shuttle mission in the latter half of 2007.

Earth-based scientists, with the help of space station astronauts, will be able to conduct experiments all in the weightlessness of orbit during its planned 10-year operational lifetime.

The 4.5m (nearly 15ft) diameter cylindrical module provides 75 cubic metres (some 2,650 cubic feet) of space to house a suite of science instruments.

It can house 10 payload racks, each the size of a telephone booth and is able to host its own autonomous laboratory, complete with power and cooling systems, and video and data links back to researchers on Earth.

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