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21st-century space flight salutes the father of sci-fi, Jules Verne

Making Jules proud.
by Staff Writers
Turin, Italy (AFP) Oct 7, 2007
He lit the imagination of countless youngsters with tales of derring-do -- of submarines that explored the depths of the oceans, of adventurers who crept to the centre of the Earth, of doughty pioneers who travelled to the Moon.

More than a century after his death, Jules Verne is about to get a double recognition from the space community that he indirectly helped create through the inspiration of science fiction.

Some three months from now, Europe will launch a robot spacecraft, named after the French author, which is designed to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

Aboard the craft will be two Verne manuscripts as well as a book that will be a cornerstone of the ISS library -- a beautiful illustrated double-edition of "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Around the Moon."

US and European astronauts were on hand on Thursday at the Turin site of the Franco-Italian firm Thales Alenia Space to receive the precious objects, which -- if all goes well -- will be sent aloft in January, when the supply ship makes its maiden flight atop an Ariane-5 rocket.

Protected by a plastic cover emblazoned with the label "do not unseal," the manuscripts, normally housed in a city library in Amiens, northern France, comprise a celestial map by Verne and a note on "distances in astronomy."

The latter document speaks tellingly of the romance and innocence of the 19th century, when the fastest form of transport was a steam locomotive.

"Earth to Moon (384,300 kms)," writes Verne (384,300 kms is equal to 240,200 miles). "Going by foot = eight years, 282 days."

Travelling by express train at a constant 60 kms (37.5 miles) per hour, though, would cut this to a mere nine months, he notes. At the speed of light, the distance is spanned in just a second and a quarter.

Just as evocative of the 19th century -- a time of enormous faith in advancement through science -- is Verne's dedication in a copy of "Journey to the Moon" that he presented to American friends in 1881.

"Forwards... that should be humanity's slogan," he wrote.

The two original manuscripts and the reproduction of Verne's dedication are scheduled to return to Earth when crew numbers are rotated on the ISS, an outpost that orbits at an altitude of 400 kilometres (250 miles).

For the spaceship Jules Verne, though, a fiery end is promised. After detaching from its launcher, the craft will dock with the ISS, where its supplies will be unloaded.

It will then be laden with the ISS' trash, detach from the space station and sent plummeting to Earth, where it should be consumed in a fireball through friction with the atmosphere.

Other supply ships, called ATVs (for Automated Transfer Vehicles), will follow under the European Space Agency's contract to help the multinational ISS project.

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Russia marks Sputnik anniversary
Moscow (AFP) Oct 4, 2007
Russia on Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the tiny satellite whose crackly beeps launched the Space Race between the Cold War superpowers.

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