Europe has much riding aboard U.S. space shuttle
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 29 (Reuters) While the upcoming flight of space shuttle Discovery marks a critical test for the US space agency NASA, Europe will have a lot riding on the shuttle, too.
German-born Thomas Reiter, 48, will be one of Discovery's seven crew members when it makes its planned lift-off on July 1.
And his presence goes beyond mere symbolism since the flight, in many ways, is key to the future of Europe's manned space programme.
Reiter will be returning to space after a 10-year hiatus, having last served aboard Russia's now-defunct Mir space station.
''We are trying to use this for public interest, for consciousness that now things are continuing and progressing,'' said Reiter.
Reiter is set to become the first member of an International Space Station crew who is not from the United States or Russia, dominant partners in the 16-nation programme.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has spent more than billion on its Columbus research space module, which was built to link up with the station. Its launch, like many other components of the half-built station, has been on hold pending a successful return to flight of NASA's shuttles.
''We are all desperately waiting for the moment when Columbus will be docked to the station,'' said Reiter.
In addition to design and manufacturing expenses, ESA pays about 500 million dollars a year for operational costs stemming from the Columbus programme, making it the single most expensive space project ever undertaken by Europe.
''The budgets are set. And due to all these incidents that we had, of course everybody understood that this causes a delay,'' said Reiter, referring to NASA's problems with the shuttle.
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