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DAY 39

DAY 39

THE MOMENT WE CONNECTED IN SPACE

The first ATV brings vital supplies to the ISS

Thursday 3 April 2008. It is 16:37 and at the human outpost in space, 400 kilometres above the earth, a rendezvous is taking place.

Travelling around the earth at 28,000 kilometres per hour, the world’s first Autonomous Transfer Vehicle (ATV), named Jules Verne, is on its final approach to the International Space Station. 

Despite being as big as a London bus, the Jules Verne is preparing to dock on a space no larger than a €2 coin, and as softly as a bee landing on a flower. On board are vital supplies for astronauts in the space station, like liquids, gas, propellant, and water.

400 kilometers below, at Airbus Defence and Space’s ATV building near Paris, the Airbus team are watching intently. Tension can be seen on the onlookers’ faces, reflecting the magnitude of the event.

For Nicolas Chamussy, Head of the ATV Programme in 2008, the adventure started long before this intense moment: “The European Space Agency had first placed the ATV order with us, the prime contractor, back in 1998. We were involved in the project when it was a blank sheet of paper and we watched the design emerge little by little. And now, the Jules Verne is up there, all ready to perform the task for which it was designed.”

It is now 16:42, and after making its final approach at a relative speed of seven centimetres per second, the ATV is now just 12 metres from the ISS. 

The final checks are being performed. As the ‘go’ comes through from Control Centres in Moscow and Houston, the docking probe finally makes contact with the ISS, marking the successful end of a long journey. 

But it was not really the end. The work that Airbus did with the European Space Agency to create this historic vehicle achieved breakthroughs, instrumental to NASA’s Orion spaceship, which is designed to take people to the moon and beyond. 

The Automated Transfer Vehicle continues to make connections as it helps to make human spaceflight more possible. 


“It was quite simply a world first, the first time that a rendezvous and docking in space had been performed automatically.”

Nicolas Chamussy, Head of the ATV Programme in 2008.

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