An Ariane 5 rocket launches the unmanned ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi robotic cargo ship
toward the International Space Station on March 23, 2012 in a successful liftoff from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. After a brief light show, the rocket slipped through a cloud layer and soared into orbit. According to Nasa the 13-ton cargo freighter is loaded with about 7.2 tons of supplies, including food, water, clothing, experiments and fuel for the space station. The unmanned ATV-3 is the heaviest load of cargo ever delivered to the station by a robotic spacecraft. The vehicle is scheduled to arrive at the space station on March 28 at 6:34 p.m. EDT (2234 GMT). The ATV-3 is nicknamed “Edoardo Amaldi” after the famed Italian physicist and spaceflight pioneer who is credited with helping to create the European Space Agency. The cylindrical spacecraft is 35 feet (10.7 meters) long and 14.7 feet (4.5 meters) wide – large enough to fit a double-decker bus inside. Europe’s disposable ATVs are designed to automatically dock to the Zvezda module on the Russian portion of the International Space Station. The cargo ships then remain attached to the complex for up to six months before they are packed with garbage and deliberately sent to burn up during atmospheric re-entry. The European ATVs are part of an international fleet of disposable robot cargo ships that are used to transport hardware and critical supplies to the space station. The next two planned ATVs, named ATV-4 Albert Einstein and ATV-5 Georges Lemaitre, are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in 2013 and 2014, respectively.