European space truck docks at space station

April 3rd, 2008 - 11:48 pm ICT by admin  

Bremen (Germany), April 3 (DPA) In a first docking by a European spacecraft in orbit, an expendable “space truck”, named the “Jules Verne”, nosed up to International Space Station (ISS) Thursday and attached itself automatically. A live telecast, watched with bated breath by the craft’s assemblers in Bremen, Germany, showed how computers guided the arriving craft smoothly throughout the slow manoeuvre, succeeding on its first attempt.

Operators in the European Space Agency (ESA) control room in Toulouse, France announced “Contact!” as an extendable probe touched, and minutes later the space track hooked itself securely to the space station.

The Jules Verne, which brought nearly six tonnes of food, fuel and other supplies to the three astronauts on the ISS, is the first automated transfer vehicle (ATV) in a series of five to be built by the Europeans.

The feat was hailed as a key step towards building robots that could visit Mars and return, or perhaps to an even grander goal: a European manned space programme. Only Russia, the US and China have spacecraft that take humans aloft and bring them back.

The ATV, the size of a bus, will later be allowed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere after it has finished its job.

The Jules Verne, named after the 19th-century French writer of science fiction novels, had to attach itself to the Russian-built Zvezda module of the ISS, with the space truck’s human masters ready to take over only if there were any risk of a crash.

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