Spacecraft Explodes Like Fireworks on Reentry

John Roach
for National Geographic News
October 7, 2008
Shown to stunning effect in this video released Monday by NASA, the Jules Verne unmanned cargo ship put on a rare fireworks display as it burned up and exploded (look for it at the 28-second mark) on September 29, 2008.

In the footage, the disposable spacecraft is seen reentering Earth's atmosphere at the end of its five-month resupply mission to the International Space Station.

(See "'Disposable," Unmanned Ship Docks at Space Station' [April 3, 2008].)

The European Space Agency (ESA) craft had ferried tons of food, water, clothing, and other essentials to the orbiting science lab. While there, Jules Verne's rockets boosted the station's orbit a few times and helped the station dodge a piece of space junk.

Astronauts packed Jules Verne with 2.8 tons of trash before sending it off to burn in a controlled plunge over the South Pacific. Two research aircraft captured data on the spectacle, including this video, to refine models of reentry.

"When Mir reentered, the Russians did not release a lot of information," ESA spokesperson Franco Bonacina said in reference to the Russian space lab that fell to Earth in 2001. "So every time that we can gain knowledge on reentry … is certainly an advantage."


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