Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

The Last Flight of the Jules Verne

Jules Gabriel Verne

Jules Gabriel Verne

All hail Jules Verne, French author and fin-de-siecle politician, the father of science fiction, the creator of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. And, as of yesterday, the inspiration for the first in a new class of space garbage transports developed by the European Space Agency, the Jules Verne ATV.

Jules Verne ATV. Courtesy of the European Space Agency (ESA)

Jules Verne ATV. Courtesy of the European Space Agency (ESA)

The ATV stands for “Automated Transfer Vehicle,” not All-Terrain Vehicle which I think Verne would have preferred. For months, the Jules Verne has dutifully supplied the International Space Station (ISS) with water, oxygen, and cargo, and propellant. It has gently nuzzled the ISS into higher orbit. Then, last week, astronauts loaded it with 2.5 tons of trash and human waste and instructed the craft to immolate itself in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Jules Verne "deorbits" its load of trash brilliantly into the Earth's atmosphere

The Jules Verne, disgorging trash into the Earth's atmosphere

This part, at least, was as spectacular and luminous as a Vernian novel. As for choosing Verne’s name for the newest craft in expensive waste management, I don’t get it. Why not the Tony Soprano ATV ?

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