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Europe delivers onspace projects

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As the International Space Station orbits Earth with its first full-time crew, Jorg Feustel-Buechl sits amid mountaineering memorabilia and models of spacecraft here, conducting a brief countdown of his own.

Each step in the station's construction brings Europe's three-ton laboratory module, Columbus, one step closer to launch.

Acknowledging that excitement levels reached new peaks with last July's launch of the long-delayed Russian service module and with October's arrival of the station's first crew, "now we are getting more excited as it gets closer to launching Columbus," says the European Space Agency's director of manned spaceflight and microgravity.

Mr. Feustel-Buechl is based at ESA's largest facility, the European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC).

Nestled amid rolling sand dunes along the Netherlands' North Sea coast, ESTEC is something of a cross between Cal Tech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA's Johnson Spaceflight Center. Here, new technologies are developed, new spacecraft are tested, and projects such as Europe's contributions to the space station are managed.

During a recent Monitor interview, he describes to a visitor how Europe's ability to stand on an equal footing with the US on space projects has come a long way over the years.

In the 1970s and into the early '80s, the relation between ESA and NASA was a "relation between teacher and pupil," he says. "But now there is a true spirit of partnership; it is not a superior-inferior relationship. I think the US is far more open to international cooperation in space than they have been."

Yet even for a 15-nation agency that wrote the handbook on international cooperation in space, participation in the international space station program has posed challenges, Feustel-Buechl says.

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