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Europe’s Last ATV Cargo Ship Hooks Up With Space Station

For the last time, an unmanned European cargo vessel has linked up with the International Space Station.

The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) joined up with the station at 9:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, as both spacecraft sailed high over southern Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The delivery is the final one by Europe's ATV fleet of spacecraft, which has been resupplying the orbiting lab since 2008.

Tuesday's ATV docking at the aft end of the station's Russian-built Zvezda module was "as flawless as can be," NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during a live broadcast of the orbital meet-up. [Europe's Last ATV Space Mission in Pictures]

The huge ATV-5 — which is named "Georges Lemaître" after the Belgian astronomer and priest credited with originating the Big Bang theory in 1927 — blasted off from French Guiana atop an Ariane 5 rocket on July 29. The vehicle is packed with more than 7 tons of food, water, spare parts and scientific experiments, which the space station's crew will begin offloading soon.

The scientific gear includes a European Space Agency experiment called Haptics-1, which will install an advanced joystick on the station. Astronauts will use the joystick to play simple video games, helping researchers understand how microgravity affects motor control, ESA officials said.

Georges Lemaître also carries some new rendezvous and docking sensors that could be used on future European spacecraft. The cargo ship tested this technology out during a close flyby of the space station on Friday, when ATV-5 passed just 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) beneath the $100 billion orbiting complex.

The resupply craft will stay docked with the station for about six months, ESA officials have said. Georges Lemaître will then be loaded up with trash and sent to burn up in Earth's atmosphere, as the four previous ATV vessels have done.

— Mike Wall, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter and Google+. Follow Space.com on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.