A space cargo ship as large as a double-decker bus blasted off for the International Space Station on Tuesday, marking the final space voyage for Europe's fleet of huge robotic spacecraft.
The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle went into orbit atop an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana Tuesday at 7:47 p.m. ET.
ATV-5 will take its time getting to the orbiting lab, arriving on Aug. 12 with more than 7 tons of food, water, clothing, spare parts and scientific gear. The cargo vessel itself weighs 13 tons; the fully loaded ATV-5 is the heaviest payload ever lofted by an Ariane 5, the European Space Agency says. [Europe's ATV-5 Space Cargo Ship Mission in Pictures]
ESA named each of its ATV vehicles after European scientists and thinkers. ATV-5 received the moniker "Georges Lemaitre," after the Belgian priest and astronomer who is considered the progenitor of the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin.
In keeping with its name, Georges Lemaitre is hauling some interesting scientific experiments to the International Space Station. One of them is ESA's Haptics-1 study, which will install a high-tech joystick on the station that astronauts will use to play simple video games. The experiment should help researchers better understand how weightlessness affects human motor control, NASA officials said.
Even the craft's fiery death in Earth's atmosphere — which will likely come about six months after docking — should return some useful data. Infrared imagers aboard the cargo vessel will collect data during ATV-5's re-entry, helping engineers plan for the space station's eventual destruction. (NASA hopes to keep the orbiting complex operational through at least 2024.)