The European Space Agency announced its fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle has been named Georges Lemaître, after the Belgian scientist who provided the first observational estimation of the Hubble constant, which was later called the Big Bang theory.
The ESA's five expendable ATVs, one of Europe's most important contributions to the International Space Station project, have been named for Europeans who opened up possibilities in human space exploration, first through compelling visions and then through key advances in science and technology, according to the agency's announcement.
ESA's ATV mission led to the successful flight in 2008 of the first ATV, named after Jules Verne, the French science fiction writer.
In 2011 ATV-2 flew in turn, named in honour of German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler during 2009, the International Year of Astronomy.
Next, the third ATV, named after Italian space pioneer and physicist Edoardo Amaldi is set to launch March 9.
The launch of ATV-4, named for Albert Einstein,is planned for early 2013, according to the ESA.
The decision to follow the tradition of honoring cultural and scientific visionaries who helped launch human space exploration efforts in naming ATV-5 after Belgian astronomer and physicist Georges Lemaître, often called the father of the Big Bang theory, was approved by the ESA Programme Board while it met this week in Paris.
ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain explained the agency's choice:
“Belgium has been a key participant in the European space adventure since its very beginning.
“Its contribution to ESA programmes and activities in general, and to the International Space Station in particular, has been a success for both Belgium and ESA.
“By naming ATV-5 after Georges Lemaître, we honour a world-class Belgian scientist who was instrumental in expanding our knowledge of the origins of the Universe.”
According to the ESA and NASA, the ATVs' precision rendezvous with the ISS are laser-guided, and the vehicles, capable of delivering over six tonnes of fuel, food, water, air and equipment, become working space station extensions for six months, then separate from the ISS full of waste and burn up over uninhabited regions of the Pacific Ocean during controlled re-entry.