Astronauts aboard the international space station opened
the hatch of Europe’s Jules Verne cargo carrier early April 4, one day after the vehicle successfully docked for the first time with the orbiting laboratory.


The docking went smoothly April 3
after several weeks during which the cargo craft was going through test maneuvers or being held in a parking orbit.


The first of a new fleet of automated resupply spacecraft,
Jules Verne
docked at the orbiting laboratory at
10:40 a.m. EDT
under the watchful eye of space station commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko.

“Right now the vehicle can be seen clearly … it’s lit by the sun,” Malenchenko told Russia’s Mission Control before the two spacecraft docked 341 kilometers

above the southern Atlantic Ocean, just south of the equator and east of South America.


Malenchenko was poised to push a red button on a console inside the station’s Russian-built Zvezda service module that would send Jules Verne away

d the cargo ship strayed off course during its
approach. But the spacecraft’s smooth
docking made the emergency measure unnecessary.


About the size of a London double-decker bus, the Jules Verne is the first of
Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) spacecraft to fly to the station
. The agency spent some 1.3 billion euros ($2
billion) to develop and build the Jules Verne ATV, and plans to launch
four more ATVs
as part of a barter arrangement with NASA for space station services.
ESA officials hope to continue launching ATV
s at a rate of one every 18 months over the space station’s lifetime.


“It was a first for Europe and we achieved it on the first try,” said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain during a post-docking webcast. “I think it’s an incredible technical feat.”


Tucked inside the spacecraft’s cargo hold are about eight
tons of supplies, including fresh food, water, rocket propellant and new equipment for the station’s Expedition 16 crew. Handwritten manuscripts by 19th century science fiction writer Jules Verne, after whom ESA’s first ATV is named, are also aboard the spacecraft.


Jules Verne is the first completely new spacecraft to visit the space station
in nine years, following NASA’s U.S. space shuttles and Russia’s Soyuz and Progress vehicles.


disposable ATV is a cylindrical craft measuring
just over
10 meters
long and
4.5 meters
wide. It is
powered by four
solar arrays that give it the appearance of a squat dragonfly coasting through space. It is designed to haul up to three times the cargo of Russia’s unmanned Progress freighters, which deliver 2.5 tons of equipment and supplies to the space station during regular shipments.

The Jules Verne ATV launched March 8
atop an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s
spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, to begin four weeks of orbital trials that culminated in two successful rendezvous tests of its video and laser-based guidance system. A new ATV-only ESA mission control center in Toulouse, France,
watched over the maneuvers


“We did some training on this and I’m looking forward to getting yet another module up on station,” Whitson told reporters in a recent interview. “I think Yuri is looking forward to the challenge of it as well.”


Jules Verne’s successful
docking filled the last open Russian docking port aboard the station, with a Progress cargo ship and a Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft taking up the other slots.
ship was
scheduled to
cast off from the station’s Pirs docking compartment April 8 to clear a berth for a
Soyuz spacecraft due to ferry the new Expedition 17 crew to the orbiting lab
April 10, NASA officials
said April 2.

ESA officials plan to discard the Jules Verne ATV
Aug. 7 after stowing its cargo inside the station
and exhausting its supply of rocket propellant and other consumables.