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Monday, April 2, 2012

ATV-3 Resupply Docks with ISS

ATV-3 (left) approaches the docking port of the Zvezda Module (right).

On Friday, March 23, the European Space Agency launched the third in their series of Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV) to resupply the International Space Station. ATV-3 was nicknamed "Edoardo Amaldi" after an Italian scientist. The launch, operated by ArianneSpace, took place at the Agency's Korou, French Guiana space center in Northern South America. The mighty Arianne 5 rocket lifted off for an 8-minute ride to orbit, lifting the 20-ton cargo vessel in a beautiful flight over the Atlantic and past the Azore islands.

ESA launch facilities in French Guiana.

ATV-3 blasts off on an Arianne 5 rocket.

The Edoardo Amaldi is the first of the ATV series of 5 launches to meet the ESA's goal of one flight per year to the ISS. The Agency hopes the remaining two flights in this first resupply program will continue to meet their goal. Soon after reaching orbit, the ATV extended its 4 solar panels and made course corrections to catch up to the orbiting ISS.

ATV-3 is powered by 4 solar panels (2 in the shadows on right). An ISS solar panel, seen edge-on, blocks the front view of the ATV.

ATV-3 finally caught up to the ISS and docked to the aft end of the Russian-built Zvesda Service Module on March 28th. Although the craft itself weighs about 20 tons, its cargo comprised about six and a half tons of propellant, air, water, food, and other supplies needed for operations. It will remain docked to the ISS for 5 months. One of its most important missions will be to use it's own propellant and engines to boost the altitude of the ISS higher above the Earth.

50 YA - Kennedy watches an Atlas Test

President Kennedy with Air Force Generals at Vandenberg AFB. Picture from the SAC Elite Guard Association site.

On March 23, 1962 President John F. Kennedy did something no other president had ever done. He watched a test firing of an Atlas D InterContinental Ballistic MIssile (ICBM) from a silo at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Vandenberg AFB was the site for many of the military test missions of ICBM's, and also included launch silos for operational use of in-service ICBMs.

Welcome for Air Force One and the President. Picture from the SAC Elite Guard Association site.

It's important for us to remember today, that way back then in the early 60's our nation was experiencing the Cold War with our enemies, Soviet Russia. ICBMs stood by in each country ready to launch and inflict nuclear warfare on the other nation. So it seems more than appropriate that the American President should have been witness to a launch of our country's most important defensive weapon at the time. At the same time, both of our countries were engaged in a politically-inspired race of technology to conquer space and lead the world in space technology. In 1962, the Soviets seemed to be winning that race, and President Kennedy was gearing up the nation to be the first to land men on the Moon.

Atlas D ICBM at Pad 12 at Cape Canaveral.

The rocket launched that day from California was the Atlas D model ICBM. This type first flew in 1959. The operational rocket witness by the President was launched from a silo buried in the ground to protect it from enemy attack and hide it from surveillance. I was unable to find a picture of the silo and launch, though there is a video on Youtube that shows President Kennedy observing the blast-off:
(Thanks HelmerReenberg and Youtube!) I've included a picture of an Atlas D model at Launch Complex 12 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Atlas D was used for other NASA purposes as well, including 4 Mercury Program launches.
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