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March 7, 2008

"Jules Verne" Takes Flight

Posted: 09:54 AM ET

Crews have been manning the International Space Station continuously since late 2000, and in all that time there have really only been three ways to get supplies from Earth to orbit. They can go up in the space shuttle's cargo hold, they can be packed into an unmanned Russian "Progress" re-supply ship, or they can be squeezed in with passengers on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Source: ESA

That is, until now. If all goes as planned, a new European supply ship called the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is set to launch on Saturday night atop an Ariane 5 rocket from the Ariane Launch Complex Number 3 in Kourou, French Guiana.

Christened "Jules Verne," this unmanned spacecraft will be the first of five ATV's launched to the ISS at a rate of one every year and a half or so.

It is designed to deliver more than 8 tons of cargo to the ISS - everything from food and drinking water to air, propellants and scientific equipment.

Once docked to the Russian Zvezda Service Module on the station, the ATV will remain there for about 6 months. From time to time, flight controllers will fire its rocket thrusters to boost the ISS to a higher altitude, as the station's orbit naturally degrades over time.

After crew members unpack it, they will gradually fill it back up with trash. After it undocks, it will be programmed for a controlled reentry to the atmosphere, and should burn up completely over the Pacific Ocean.

This maiden flight of the ATV comes just a month after shuttle Atlantis astronauts delivered and installed the station's European Columbus laboratory. And, if all goes as planned, the ISS will expand again next week when astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavour arrive with the first piece of the Japanese Kibo laboratory.

The "Jules Verne" launch is scheduled for 11:03pm Eastern on Saturday, March 8. NASA TV is planning live coverage.

–Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: NASA • Space

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Jeff Libby   March 7th, 2008 1:26 pm ET

A fitting tribute to a visionary writer. I applaude the Europeans on this advancement in Space technology.

Alien8   March 7th, 2008 1:46 pm ET

Awesome! A flying trashcan.

Eman   March 7th, 2008 2:10 pm ET

Another reason why the shuttle is nothing more than a tricked out Toyota pickup truck.

Steve   March 7th, 2008 2:39 pm ET

This practice of sending perfectly good hardware to burn up in the atmosphere is very wasteful. These units would make a good addition to the space station and could be converted to habitat or storage space. Amazing what people will do with other people's money.

Jay   March 7th, 2008 2:44 pm ET

There are a lot of additional safety measures that need to be in place to use it as a storage module, and many more that would be required to use it as a habitat. It could theoretically be used as storage, but only if it had another connector on the other side that allowed future delivery vehicles to link up to it.

Besides, they need to get rid of the trash somehow. This is a good way to do it. Not worrying about all the safety or electronic connections that would be necessary for making it a permanent part of the station allows them to build it much more cheaply.

charles   March 7th, 2008 3:07 pm ET

Right on Steve. Jeesh, no wonder we cant get anywhere in Space. Everything we send up either comes back in pieces or drifts around our planet as if in a Orbital Garbage Dump. Amazing how much money is blown......

tp   March 7th, 2008 3:11 pm ET


ever think that the design of the rocket may not be compatable or in any way useful to the station?

Brian   March 7th, 2008 3:36 pm ET

I totally agree with the above statement. The ATV should be reused or added to the ISS. At the very least, It can be used to "pickup" space junk that is orbiting our planet and creating hazards. So ESA – ARE YOU LISTENING?

Mike   March 7th, 2008 3:37 pm ET

The ATV is designed to take trash out of the space station...not be a permanent addition.
Please read article before posting caustic comment.

Jeff   March 7th, 2008 3:56 pm ET

It's good to know that people like Steve are out there every day at the cutting edge of space travel

Burns   March 7th, 2008 3:57 pm ET

Come on! Notice that communication companies are perfectly willing to allow good rockets that they have bought with their own money to be thrown away after a few minutes of work. That's because it is the most economical way to get the job done.

On top of that, what makes you think that the ATV would make a good addition? The ESA already built a good addition: Columbus. There is a lot of difference between building something that will work in space for a few weeks and one that will work for years and years.

If anything, I'd like to see the ATV be able to be reused...sent up again with a new load of cargo. But of course getting it back to Earth is even harder. So far, the most economical way to do things in space is to build hardware for relatively specialized purposes, and when the purpose is done, cast it off. This is not because people are stupid and wasteful; it is because that is the state of the art at this point.

Javier   March 7th, 2008 3:58 pm ET

I think engineers do right their job. For instance, it's not a good idea to maintain 8 tons of garbage in your back yard...

dave   March 7th, 2008 4:07 pm ET

perfectly good hardware, true, steve, but specifically designed for a single use. conversion to habitat is not feasible since they do not incorporate the necessary environmental infrastructure as the rest of the manned station. if it did, it wouldn't be able to carry near as much up to the station. and remember, they are being used as storage... for waste materials generated on the station itself. it's extremely difficult to get rid of trash on the station since it cannot simply be thrown out the airlock. burning up in the atmosphere with a full load of trash is far more cost-effective than storing all that trash somewhere else on the station only to send it back down on a shuttle.
yes, it is quite expensive, and counter-intuitive, but believe me, it all makes sense when you add up the dollars –or in this case, the euros.
best, d

David Gillis   March 7th, 2008 4:09 pm ET

Expendable vehicles are not designed to be a "good addition to the space station" and thus cannot be "converted" to habitat or storage space. There are many supply flights to the ISS during its lifetime–these would rapidly create an unsustainable maze if not expended. It is actually a carefully planned optimized use of the constrained available money, not a waste. Each addition module to the ISS adds risk of decompression leaks, requirments for maintaining pressurization and oxygen and nitrogen percentages, heat, power, maintenance, drag requiring propellant for reboosting, etc. It is rocket science! It is not uninformed speculation posed as 'amazing' fact! Missions are and always have been designed to minimize the mass that must be brought home– see a reference such as "HumanSpaceflight, Mission Analysis & Design," McGraw Hill

Carl   March 7th, 2008 4:29 pm ET

There seem to be a few people here that criticize things they don't know about. If you think you have better ideas. then why don't you give it a try. But let me warn you, rocket science is really hard.

Tracy Claiborn   March 7th, 2008 4:51 pm ET

It could have been engineered to fit inside the Space Shuttles bay and could be returned with the shuttle, the garbage offloaded, and the module used again. But in the grand scheme of things, is it really as wasteful as what it takes just to get the thing into orbit?

Greg   March 7th, 2008 4:54 pm ET

I applaud the ESA and others for sticking it out with the ISS. Now that it's coming together we have alot of traffic ferrying too and from orbit on a regular basis.....while not perfect, a great start. To those of us old enough to remember the days when this type of space travel was only dreamt about this is very cool......I tell you one thing, my vote for Pres. depends heavily on their position and dedication to NASA, so I guess OBAMA is out.......I want the USA on the moon by 2020...period!

Scott   March 7th, 2008 5:38 pm ET

Hey, at least the EU has designed and built something. If you haven't read another article on this site let me inform you that we will be depending on the Russians to get into space after 2010 and paying them billions of dollars to do so.
Way to go USA.

Zefram   March 7th, 2008 5:58 pm ET

What is needed for the trash is a trash "cannon". You load up the trash and shoot it out the back of the ISS, it slows down and deorbits and the ISS gets a boost into a higher orbit. Simple conservation of momentum.

Nathan   March 7th, 2008 6:54 pm ET

Ladies and gentlemen! Behold, the $36 million dollar trash can! (or however much each of those things will cost)

Greg   March 7th, 2008 7:03 pm ET

Doesn't anyone get concerned any more when they use the word "SHOULD" (refering to the re-entry burn into the atmosphere).

One day "SHOULD" will turn into "SHOULD HAVE".

Arnie   March 7th, 2008 7:31 pm ET

It's amazing that people who have no idea what so ever about aerospace engineering think they have any idea what can and can't be done with a certain type of vehicle. Just because U could turn a trash can into a storage bin, or part of your home here on earth doesn't mean it can be done safely in space.

If your repurposed trash can malfunctions down here U get a new trash can, up in space it can and will kill U!

Get real people, space is unforgiving! would U trust your life to something not specifically designed to do the job?

Trek Lover   March 7th, 2008 8:24 pm ET

First of all, lets all remember that the ISS can only be as large as the fuel that keeps it up there. As we (down here) add mass to it, the ISS is attracted by good old earth more, and so even more fuel is needed to keep it in orbit, so it doesn't become another falling disaster. More mass, more fuel, more trips, etc. etc. Get it?

So what they are disposing of are "empty" boxes that have been stuffed with items used and have to be disposed of (from TP to broken parts to refuse) and if they can dispose of it a lot safer (than we do down here, because burning it up in the atmosphere requires not very much fuel to aim it to a safe fall) then I am all for it. Plus the volume they are throwing away (including the box) after 6 to 8 months is less than most 4 cities throw away in a week. Less energy to get rid of it than to get it up there. Sounds more efficient to me. What do some of you guys want them to do with the trash, open up the window and just throw it out???? Get real.

Plus it uses less fuel to send an unmanned box up for supplies than a manned ship, thus saving the shuttle or what ever will be used new, for taking either people or sensitive items up. That's efficient!!

Chad in Cincinnati   March 7th, 2008 8:50 pm ET

AND... spacecraft only carry a limited amount of fuel and orbits are designed to minimize fuel use (b/c it takes a LOT of fuel to change orbits mid-flight). So, the pods can't just fly around picking up our other space junk that isn't in approximately the same orbit.

If we had a spacecraft that could do that, we wouldn't have to use disposable ones in the first place.

Alex   March 7th, 2008 11:01 pm ET

Steve, I challenge you to justify your 'wasteful' comments with factual support (please). In all actuality, the use as described in the story is assuredly the most cost-effective (not to mention safest in all respects) way of attaining all needed goals, from launch(es) to ridding of the 'mass' (beginning to finish, per se). Every kg launched cost BIG $$, and it also costs to keep such weight in a ~*stable* orbit, with habitats for 'habitation' weighing significantly more, and if meant for extended use it'll need more shielding/protection – add more weight...and on and on when it comes to reliability and *safety*. What goes up must come down, and if/when it cannot be controlled as to deorbit, looks like it'll be shot down with missiles (j / k)...but it *must* be a controlled deorbit to ensure safety of other sat's and/or us terra-firmas (right??).

Yeah, such wastefulness. I hate seeing how things are handled in those areas. So little progress and so little accomplished 😉 Hope you see my sarcasm there – I am truly astounded at how far things have come since I was a kid in mid-60's! My kid(s) could actually end up walking on Mars, or maybe beyond – and returning to tell me of it. Who'd'a thunk *that* back when we all watched Mr Armstrong & Co. step upon the little ol' Moon, huh?! The Space geeks know very, very well how to solve problems with the very few dollars (relatively speaking) they are afforded – we've literally invaded Mars already, and are working on making physical footprints there 😉


David Flick   March 8th, 2008 12:50 am ET

Americans, cast away your ignorance!

Space shuttles don't return FULL, they come back empty. They can't land full. LEARN SOMETHING FOR A CHANGE!

Justin   March 8th, 2008 6:59 am ET

These craft should be designed for heavy long term use on the ISS, it costs so much to get the material up into LEO, they should be able to incorporate it into the station. (Of course the station would need to be redesigned and would need more power to operate – etc, etc, which it was never designed for in the first place.) There has to be a cheaper way of getting garbage back into the atmosphere instead of using the craft that brought the garbage in the first place. Trust me, governmental organizations are very wasteful when it comes to space, not only are they wasteful, they are ripped off by the contractors to boot. If you want to see how cheaply things can be done look to Bigelow Aerospace or SpaceX. I've given up on national space programs which are wasteful and lacking in a clear vision. Our journey into space has to make sense economically or for national security. I think it is obvious to everyone now that space is becoming the next battleground as most of our weapons now use GPS and space based communications. We need to stop being so wasteful with the measly amount governments spend on space and strive to place the emphasis on economic profits rather than science vs exploration. Science and exploration will follow the profitable use of the materials that are within our grasp.

WFB   March 8th, 2008 9:11 am ET


TP / Alex et al

At some point we all have to realize that every scrap of material that we lift into orbit will at some point become usefull for one purpose or another. with the expense of gathering the resources and fabricating the device we need to make it into the lift vehicle,it makes sense financially as well as practically to make the fullest use possible of these very highly designed materials. When we plan off world trips to places like the Moon and Mars, we theorize about converting onhand materials[former transport modules etc] into usefull elements down the road. Just because we have no immediate means of making it into some functional component does not mean it will remain in that state. We can set it into a nearby orbital position that will cost us nothing. Imagine looking forward to when we are well ensconsed in our use of the station and our next goal becomes building vehicles to operate in space with no need or plan for surface bound re-entry, just movement in a space environment. It would be very nice and highly cost effective to have raw materials onhand that do not require that we first mine the materials, alloy it , form and fab,and then have to lift it into orbit before it could become usefull for construction. We need to think a bit longer than the next 5 minutes when approaching problem solving of this kind. To say that we have begun our journey towards managing this planets resources means that consideration of these issues is required.

I will say though that the fact that so many people are even considering such matters no matter what your take on it is exciting and encouraging to me at least.

Best of luck to all those doing the heavy lifting to make these fantastic accomplishments happen.


WFB   March 8th, 2008 9:12 am ET


TP / Alex et al

At some point we all have to realize that every scrap of material that we lift into orbit will at some point become usefull for one purpose or another. with the expense of gathering the resources and fabricating the device we need to make it into the lift vehicle,it makes sense financially as well as practically to make the fullest use possible of these very highly designed materials. When we plan off world trips to places like the Moon and Mars, we theorize about converting onhand materials[former transport modules etc] into usefull elements down the road. Just because we have no immediate means of making it into some functional component does not mean it will remain in that state. We can set it into a nearby orbital position that will cost us nothing. Imagine looking forward to when we are well ensconsed in our use of the station and our next goal becomes building vehicles to operate in space with no need or plan for surface bound re-entry, just movement in a space environment. It would be very nice and highly cost effective to have raw materials onhand that do not require that we first mine the materials, alloy it , form and fab,and then have to lift it into orbit before it could become usefull for construction. We need to think a bit longer than the next 5 minutes when approaching problem solving of this kind. To say that we have begun our journey towards managing this planets resources means that consideration of these issues is required.

I will say though that the fact that so many people are even considering such matters no matter what your take on it is exciting and encouraging to me at least.

Best of luck to all those doing the heavy lifting to make these fantastic accomplishments happen.


James Buchanan   March 8th, 2008 9:54 am ET

You couldn't use these things for random space junk retrieval. Changing orbits isn't like changing lanes on a highway. All that junk is moving at different velocities on slightly different vectors, which could translate into hundreds or thousands of miles per hour with only a slight difference in orbital parameters.

As far as using those modules to expand the space station, the question begs, "Why?" What purpose would massive amounts of empty space serve? Its more air you have to recycle, more volume you have to regulate temperature for, more electricity you need to generate to pull it off. The modules that are being permanently added have a purpose. Labs, life support, docking, habitation, they have a specific function that makes them necessary for the station and do not draw excessively on its limited power resources. Just randomly adding room up there would overtask its power system and result in brown or black outs which could threaten astronaut lives.

No dice, folks, its a cargo vessel going up, and a self incinerating garbage can coming down. Nothing more, nothing less.

Laur Ionesco   March 8th, 2008 11:40 am ET

I think the idea of ATV is a very good one and i have full confidence
in specialists that worked at this project . they considered both
necessity and cost effectiveness. So I wish the mission was a success.

TomG   March 8th, 2008 11:41 am ET

The only reason we have trash up there is because the station is occupied by humans. Why not use robots instead? The entire program is wasteful and, hey! we have yet to explore the entire earth and fix its problems.

Michael   March 8th, 2008 12:28 pm ET

I see the point of Steve's comment. It is a valid point. However....the more livable space you have you also require more oxygen to fill it up. It would be cost prohibitive versus the cost of using it as a livable space. I am not speaking from knowing this stuff....but common sense. I mean it really would be cost effective to fire up the Ariane rockets to deliver modules of the space station than the Shuttle.....I dunno. One would think I guess. I never looked at the cost differences between the two vehicles. is cool to think you can build such a thing like Legos but in twist lock form...then cap off with a one that has a sealed hatch. Nevermind Space.

I think I am going to go watch Arnold in Total Recall and Charlie Sheen in The Arrival...I like the idea of terraforming Mars.

Ken   March 8th, 2008 1:11 pm ET

Why do Moday-morning, arm-chair quarterbacks criticize the Space Program so harshly? Certainly you're not experts in the field, because if you were, you'd have already developed the perfect system and NASA would be using it right now.

Lighten up! Progress is about improvements through incremental steps of research, development and practice. We now have a cheaper more efficient way to move cargo into space without humans. In 30 years, we'll have a cheaper way to get ourselves into Space.

Don't forget, they flew flights to the Moon using radios and computers about as complex as a today's hand calculators.

Would you trash-talk your your own ancestors that way for having less efficient knowledge and tools of their own period? I hope not...

Olivier   March 8th, 2008 1:54 pm ET

Not being a rocket scientist but understanding it is not that straightforward, I would still like to see if the trash cannot be fired up towards the sun as opposed to our own planet. Yes it will cost energy but maybe we could start with the ISS trash and eventually expand to getting rid of our nuclear waste where it won't matter one bit. I know, I know, I am an idealist but why not?

Shawn   March 8th, 2008 2:06 pm ET

What Steve is trying to convey to all of you is his frustration at his tax dollars being wasted on sending more junk above his head on an endless program that produces nothing and is held to no outside review process. The sooner they close nasa and quit spending money for nothing more than ensuring they all have jobs the better.

Buzz Lightyear   March 8th, 2008 2:12 pm ET

The nickname for this vehicle is "Eurotrash."

Top   March 8th, 2008 2:45 pm ET

We are about 50 years into space exploration, and 150 years since some of the first and best science fiction ever written. That fortunatly is not a very long time, in terms of human and tecno space development. Im a huge Jules Verne fan and was excited to see any kind of tribute in a science way of his name, then i read on. What we have here is a slight progression in space cargo transport. God knows the money needed for even space cargo is astronomical!. Im no space science wizard but i think that this atv is at least a baby step in the right direction. So they are going to use the Jules Verne atv as a cargo, and garbage transport. I don't believe Jules Verne should have his name on a flying trash can!. That may even be disrespectful to his name however unintentional.

How will this garbage can effect the earths atmosphere? it sounds so efficient to burn garbage up upon reentry into the earths sky from space, but is it really a healthy idea? maybe not. Arthur c Clarke and other visionaries have long wrote about different types of space transport, it may better be suited that the "Jules Verne" atv should be part of a two stage process that transfers and collects space waste and passes it to another vehicle for its burn up instead. A better name would be the flying "Sanford and Son" atv.

Troy   March 8th, 2008 3:05 pm ET

If it has burners, then after pickup point it towards the sun and vent the leftover a few million years it'd probably get burnt up. I hear that's the plan for the next toxic waste dump (circa 2100), never mind Yucca mountain, how about Mercury or Venus?

Maurice   March 8th, 2008 3:25 pm ET

I feel the "Jules Verne" should have be designed to be re-usable as well. Sadly, too much common sense is lost upon those with bigger ambitions. But there is still time to change all that. Perhaps the response in this Blog will be a start? Write NASA!

Cyniq   March 8th, 2008 3:43 pm ET

ALL of the above comments delight me. I was a small cog in the big machine of the Apollo program and I have been concerned that the 'fire inside' that we had was burned out by this generation. I am glad to be wrong. Even those critical comments by folks who do not (yet) understand the science involved, are welcome. This keeps our space program honest and, besides,you never know from whence a good idea may come. Keep it up!

GMC   March 8th, 2008 4:27 pm ET

ATV Mission Statement:
1. Deliver more than 8 tons of cargo (food and drinking water to air, propellants and scientific equipment) every 1.5 years to the ISS. Provides a stable means to support ISS operations when the shuttle fleet stops operation.

2. Each ATV will remain for approximately 6 months; flight controllers will fire the ATV’s rocket thrusters to boost the ISS to a higher altitude, as the station’s orbit naturally degrades over time. Supports ISS orbital stability without using onboard thruster fuel.

3. Each ATV will be gradually filled with ISS trash, upon release it will be programmed for a controlled reentry using its own thrusters. Provides a safe and reliable method to dispose of ISS waste without using additional station resources.

The ATV is a space going "PODS" container, not an addition to your house or RV!

Wim from the Netherlands   March 8th, 2008 4:29 pm ET

Why, does not NASA putt the garbage-ATV in their shuttles
on their way home. The fly cargoless back.
ATV can be repared and can be reused.
Parts of the garbage can be reused. Old apparatus.
Empty food/drinkcans can bee shredded and reused.Or burned.

Erik   March 8th, 2008 4:34 pm ET

Waste and trash on another note: does anyone have a feasible idea of how to clean up the growing ring(s) of debris we have put up in orbit? I am not sure if it is actually a "problem" of the first order or not, but it seems that we may be cluttering things up a bit up there. Do we need to think about cleaning it up now or can it wait till later? Do we want a planetary ring system not of dirty snowballs but of screws and explosive bolts and whatnot? Just curious.

ravelgrane   March 8th, 2008 7:06 pm ET

Why only once every year and a half? The shuttle goes up about 3 or 4 times a year.

Paul   March 8th, 2008 7:34 pm ET

Jules Verne was "the man" of science fiction in the 19th century. This is an excellent tribute! He also believed in the Lord.

BILL   March 8th, 2008 9:06 pm ET

Hi, i'm Bill from CANADA, I think the space program is awsome. we as a species must either clean up the mess we've made of Earth or find a new home. If we have to build desposable flying garbage cans in order to find a way off this rock, I say build them. Eventually, they'll figure it out . If, we live that long.

As a Matteroffact   March 8th, 2008 9:22 pm ET

You guys are really weird

Rick   March 8th, 2008 9:30 pm ET

I think re-using a space vehicle for getting rid of trash is a great idea for saving money, but really folks, who wants the chore of reloading the vessell when they already have enough problems with those pesky solar panels. And just think, the next time your out observing the night skys and you see a beautiful shooting star, Nahhh it's just
a space trash can burning up.

Ben Fowler   March 8th, 2008 9:43 pm ET

I wonder about the wisdom of soliciting reader comments on stories where the majority of commenters do not know enough about the subject to comment or even have an informed opinion on the subject.

It's funny to watch all these armchair aerospace engineers crawl out of the woodwork - the curiously American predilication for loudly sounding off about subjects one knows nothing about, once again, on show for all the world to see!

Sir Toby Belch   March 8th, 2008 9:53 pm ET

The issue that should be of most concern is that in another few years, the US space program will likely have no establised mechanism to bring either man or material to the ISS – Uncle Sam will be completely dependent on Ivan and (now apparently) "old Europe" for all aspects of running the most visible modern accomplishment of manned space travel. The American taxpayer will have to cover the tab of astronauts hitching for the back seat on someone else's ride. Maybe the Chinese will show pity on the Red, White and Blue... but don't count on it.

Ma and Pa American – content yourself with viewing reruns of "the Eagle has landed".

Stevie   March 8th, 2008 10:23 pm ET

My goodness everyone is hammering poor Steve! I gather the point the poor man was trying to make was as long as your pushing the damn thing out of the gravity well why not have it stay in orbit? Design it so that years from now it can be used for something else. A laundry basket maybe?

Certain rocket scientists and engineers have had their share of turkey ideas and boneheads moves: Meters instead of feet for that one Mars probe, the underwhelming space shuttle, the guys at NASA who were going to destroy the plans for the Saturn 5 in the early 80s (that ones geek myth, I think)

Before using the trash cannon can they please coat the garbage with a couple dozen cans of foam sealant from Home Depot? It just seems tidier.

Chris   March 8th, 2008 11:14 pm ET

People, you need to learn what you're talking about before you start trash talking. Haw...trash!

Kirk   March 8th, 2008 11:48 pm ET

Consider the impact on a closed system in careful balance if every new delivery were to be added as additional metric – electrical generation systems would be overcome trying to heat/cool the additional space, air recirculation systems would become terribly inefficient, since the scrubbers would be at one end of the whole conglomeration, while consumption would be elsewhere, etc.

"Waste" would be to try to pressurize the mass, to expend propellant keeping it (along with the station) in proper orbit, and so on. Just because it was setn up there does not mean it cannot come back down – particularly when stationkeeping requires reaction mass to maintain.

The ISS isn't balanced up there on a free enegy source – it requiers regular boosts to maintain its position when cutting through the magnetic field and pushing against the particulate material and solar winds and all other manner of factors combine to slow it down (slow means lower orbit). Keeping the extra mass up there means wasting thrust to keep garbage up there – and if you always keep the new containers, you face a diminishing return on every booster you send up thereafter.

This is the best way to avoid "paying to keep the garbage upthere" – which is a LOT more costly long-term than getting rid of the trash and keeping the "good parts" where they need to be.


Lars Petersen   March 9th, 2008 12:14 am ET

To Tracy Claiborn – It has been invented and buildt and used. They are called MPLM. Go to They are no longer in use because the shuttle cannot fly any longer. It is being grounded after the end of the construction of the ISS. The Shuttle is simply too unsafe.

Capt. Gringo   March 9th, 2008 8:09 am ET


thought about methods of cleaning up space junk and at the risk of getting lit up for my lack of technical knowledge, here's my best go:

Launch a big ball of sticky gunk – I think of it as a thick pudding, but there's probably a better name for it. Using a separate space 'tug boat', tow this ball of gunk into the path of the flying wrenches and such. The tug gets out of the way while the wrench impacts (and is captured by) the pudding, then adjusts for the pudding ball's new post-wrench orbital path and tows the gunk ball to the next glove, bolt, or bit of detritus. Not sure how the tug would work, perhaps it could tow the gunk ball magnetically, especially if iron were a part of the gunk.

Either that, or perhaps we could use sharks with laser beams attached to their heads to blast the bits out of orbit...never mind, that wouldn't work – then we'd just have melted wrenches in space (and sharks in a decaying orbit)...

Boy, maybe its a knottier problem than I thought!

Juan   March 9th, 2008 9:21 am ET

I cannot help but be disappointed by the nature of some commentor's remarks. For example, one stated that the mission profile of the AVT was wasteful, and that instead of being loaded with trash and jettisoned they should be used for storage space or habitation. The commentor (as probably a large percentage of the population) assumes that if it makes sense to him, it is possible to do. In reality, there is relatively little flexibility in how the ISS can be operated. There are not an unlimited number of docks, power, air or heat such that AVTs can simply be permanently added to the station at a whim. Also, the station was designed to be structurally and orbitally stable with a limited amount of structure attached. Finally, the station does need redundant means of receiving supplies and disposing of waste and trash. The ATV fills this role in a safe manner that does not clutter up space.

firedave   March 9th, 2008 10:33 am ET

How about making it out of cheese! Then the astronauts could eat the thing when it's empty!

Wray Swanson   March 9th, 2008 2:11 pm ET

Yes, lets be concerned about a few ATV's being burned up in space.
Won't be long before anyone looking down at the earth from space
will see a planet crawling with vehicles, just one huge ant hill, the open spaces filled in with millions upon millions of old ones. Look closer, in between all this, millions of big, fat lazy ants, insanely following the vehicle manufacturer Pied Pipers. Look closer, billions
of 'used once' beer, pop, cans, water, Kraft salad, hair care bottles,
plastic bags, junk, junk, junk, mountains of it. Who is concerned
about that, no one. Maybe that is why Man is trying to inhabit the
Moon, Mars. New, filth few sites, yet to be destroyed by Earth's
ultimate virus: Man

How do you get oxygen to the Space Station? Europe blasts off with the solution « exploring our world   March 9th, 2008 2:21 pm ET

[...] or the rather basic Russian 'Progress' ship. But now a new way to supply the ISS has just blasted off from French Guinea in South America: the Jules Verne ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) has a huge [...]

andrew   March 9th, 2008 5:30 pm ET

What about our enviroment

Joe   March 9th, 2008 5:50 pm ET

I'm pretty ignorant of this stuff so humour me. If you pushed a 50 gallon plastic bag full of trash out of the airlock towards earth, how long would it take before it burned up in the atmosphere by itself?

Another Steve   March 9th, 2008 5:56 pm ET

I do applaud the ESA for developing a space delivery system. I do hope that they take the next few steps and start developing manned systems to place people in orbit or even farther. The Space Shuttle has seen it's time come and now it needs to be retired. It has never been a cost effective system.

Due to NASA's apparent lack of vision in allowing private enterprise opportunities to develop off the shelf replacements during the mid years of the shuttle program – remember the mini shuttles of the late 80's and 90's (where are they now? On the rust heep, not being used because NASA said they wouldn't work) – we (the US space program) are now stuck between a rock and a hard place because soon we will lack a system for sending men into space for a few years. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot!

The Orion/Ares system is still years off and talk about another wasteful transportation system. It will be just that. Oh course some of it will be recycled and reused but not all of it. Gotta keeps some contractors in jobs don't we?

Bring on Bigelow, Virgin Galactic, and Falcon. How about Salvage I?

Remember the Andy Griffith TV show from the late 70's where he built a rocket out of spare parts (Salvage I) and went to the moon to salvage what NASA left behind? That's what we need today. Think about all of those museums who would just die to get their hands on say the Vanguard I or ATS-I satellites, a moon buggy or other lunar experiments left by the Apollo astronauts. People, there's money in that throw away stuff. Besides, retrieveing it would help clean up earth orbit and help clean up the moon.

Thomas   March 9th, 2008 6:07 pm ET

What disgusts me about the vast majority of the comments is that these are the SAME people that will thump their chests and be proud of America's new space shuttle in the middle of the next decade.
And be the same ones watching with pride and happiness as America returns to the moon and beyond in the next 15 years.

THe lack of foresight and vision on most is frustrating.
I guess if it's not NASCAR they don't understand it.
I suddenly see how budwiser in a can sells so much of it's product.

Lack of refined taste is very similar to lack of refined knowledge....

astronutty   March 9th, 2008 9:18 pm ET

I'm confused. Why don't we use the matter/anti-matter reactor we developed back in the 1960s? Just destroy all of the junk using the ships phasers. Jeeesh...

lc hanford   March 10th, 2008 5:32 am ET

What ? something else that is made out of the USA well I never. When are we going to become a super power again? I know, I know we're not right? Just think the USA a third world country, thanks to our fearless leaders and the money they are making. Americans, wake up before its to late, I like speaking english.

Mark   March 10th, 2008 7:23 am ET

i can see the point of unmanned vehicles and the using it as storage to bring back waste, but it would make more sense if it was designed to fit inside the space shuttle for a shuttle return flight. This way it could be re-used instead of just burning up valuable resoures, not only in materials but also in manhours of building new ones for each launch.

Gaius Baltar   March 10th, 2008 4:06 pm ET

Can't we just use the jump drive system to move the junk to Caprica? I mean, the place is already a nuclear wasteland, why not throw our trash there too? The Cylons deserve it!

So say we all!

elena   March 10th, 2008 8:48 pm ET

it's delivering FOOD, FUEL, AND OXYGEN. ever think about that, geniuses?

Ricardo   March 11th, 2008 6:39 am ET

Check out the American media blackout about this historical event.
Why? because it's mainly French engineering, usually Americans want us to believe that the French can only make cheese and wine.

It was heartbreaking to see that British bloke having to admit that the Brits didn't have a part in this project.

It's always like this, if the Americans want the world to believe there is good engineering in Europe it must only come from Germany but nothing from France, you'll be amazed if you knew more about how French engineering has outpaced German and even Japanese in so many fields.

*if you feel your guts revolt after reading this then I can understand the US media when it comes to learning this facts.

Ryan   March 11th, 2008 12:13 pm ET

To those people who think we should re-use these ATVs I have a question for you. When you moved into your house, what did you do with your boxes? Did you add them onto your house so that you could have some extra living room or did you send them to the landfill?

The vehicle was designed to be thrown away. Guess what you have when you want something to come back to Earth....another space shuttle!

BSG 3 Fan too!   March 11th, 2008 6:08 pm ET

Why burn it up in the atmosphere, which adds to the pollution? I would think a very short burn, and we could send it on its way to the sun, where it and its payload would not be even the slightest issue when they burned up.

I do understand why it cannot be reused. There are huge engineering differences when designing for habitability vs non-habitability. The ATV is roughly one fifth the cost of a habitable system apparently (design tolerances and redundancy, plus additional systems all make up this price difference), and if it were to be a re-entry reusable vehicle the price escalates even more.

Weary   March 11th, 2008 6:13 pm ET

Steve and Shawn, unless you're citizens of the one of the countries who are members of the European Space Agency, your taxes aren't supporting the ATV.

Sandy   March 12th, 2008 10:09 am ET

Hmmm.....wondering if the Hefty steel sack garbage bags would be an economical solution or not.

Take the robotic arm and hurl it towards the earth. Might work.....need to ask NASA to study it.


Mr. Spock   March 28th, 2008 5:06 am ET

Yes the ATV basically is a trash can, on the return trip anyway, but so is the shuttle. Yes, that's right the Space Shuttle is a garbage truck on the way back. The ISS produces trash and it's gotta go somewhere. I just wish there was some way to send it into the Sun instead of bringing it back home. Since there are only a few shuttle missions left, we probably should consider the possibility of sending fuel modules up with the shuttle for future Moon or Mars Missions.

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