HOUSTON – The international space station can finally live up to its name, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter crowed Sunday.
His mere presence is a milestone for the continent of Europe: Reiter is the first non-American and non-Russian to take up long-term residence in the so-called "international" orbital outpost.
"The fact that there is a European representative on board makes the international space station more international," Reiter, who is from Frankfurt, Germany, said during a news conference. "Up to date it has been more kind of a more bilateral project."
Reiter joins American Jeffrey Williams and Russian Pavel Vinogradov aboard the space station.
"In Europe we are waiting desperately" for the launch of a European-built module for the space station called Columbus, he said.
The lab, predominantly for science, has been delayed because of shuttle problems and is set for launch in 2007.
"This mission is kind of a precursor," said Reiter, who lived aboard the Russian Mir space station for 179 days and is scheduled to be at the international space station for six months. "The international space station in the future will be indeed very international."
While Reiter wanted to talk science and space on Sunday, the European media was more interested in the World Cup, asking Reiter several questions. The station was scheduled to be flying over northern Europe at about the time of the start of the World Cup final in Berlin.
"There's no time to follow the game on the ground," Reiter said. "We will certainly check on the score after the game."
"I'm not going to side with anybody," he said. "I work with colleagues from Italy and from France. Therefore I'm just going to be surprised by the result. I'm going to cross my fingers for both teams."
Reiter's comments about the World Cup were broadcast to the stadium in Berlin and when Mission Control notified him about it, the German astronaut let out a hearty laugh.
However, Discovery astronaut Piers Sellers had revealed earlier that he and Reiter were cheering for different teams. Sellers seemed to be rooting for France.
When Discovery's crew was told about Italy's victory, commander Steve Lindsey noted that in their in-space predictions, both Sellers and Reiter were wrong and "non-soccer players" Lisa Nowak and Mark Kelly predicted the eventual winner.
Reiter said much of his unpacking, training for a future spacewalk and plans to practice the guitar — once he finds a missing string for the outpost's instrument — will have to wait until after Discovery undocks on July 15.
Presents from home will also have to wait.
"I haven't had any time to unpack this package that my family sent me," Reiter said. "I have not found it yet... I'm sure I'm going to find it, but right now we're too busy."