The Columbus laboratory is
ESA's biggest single contribution to the International Space Station.
The 4.5-metre diameter cylindrical module is equipped with flexible
reseach facilities that offer extensive science capabilities.
During its 10-year projected lifespan,
Earth-based researchers - sometimes with a little help from the ISS
crew - will be able to conduct thousands of experiments in life
sciences, materials science, fluid physics and a whole host of other
disciplines, all in the weightlessness of orbit.
To keep costs low and reliability high, Columbus shares its basic
structure and life-support systems with the Italian Space Agency's
Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM). But whereas the MPLM is aptly
described as a 'space moving van' - albeit a very sophisticated moving
van - the 75 cubic metres of space inside Columbus contains an entire
suite of science laboratories.