Europe's new ATV orbital garbage and supply ship launched yesterday from French Guiana on an urgent mission to resupply the space station with toilet paper and a few more of those tasty little mints to place on bed pillows.
The Automated Toiletries Vehicle (ATV) is the biggest and most complex spacecraft Europe has ever tried to put in orbit, completely dwarfing the late 2007 launch of Europe's Manned and Automated Interstellar Domestics (MAID) which sent a full staff of French maids and Italian cooks to the orbiting space station.
The 20-tonne toiletries freighter left the Kourou spaceport at 0403 GMT, riding atop a medium-sized sparkly New Year's fireworks rocket. Tensions and technical concerns were running high at the launch center yesterday, despite the generally festive atmosphere, free champagne and trays of cheesy nibbles.
The spectacular night launch from the jungles of Guiana was declared a success as soon as the ATV separated from its booster 66 minutes after lift-off. Fears of failure had pervaded the launch center until that crucial point, despite the typical cocktail party bonhomie.
Soused scientists immediately congratulated one another on the separation, as the odds had been quite long against the garbage truck ever actually reaching the orbiting international space station.
The successful launch upped those odds considerably, to the enormous relief of the second-shift maids and cooks aboard the ATV.
The news was cheered by a huge crowd of VIPs, European space agency officials and representatives from cable TV's Cartoon Network, who was the highest bidder in last week's publicity and copyright auction for the under-funded European space program.
"With the launch of the ATV, Europe is embarking on an extraordinary interstellar voyage of loo-cleaning and laundry," reflected European Space Agency chief, Jean Jacques Foredain, as he contemplated his half-empty glass of champagne.
"This launch proves that there is no limit to what Europe can offer the international space station," he declared, "we've barely scratched the surface of the European cuisine and service industries."
"Some day, our European sparkly-rocket space technology will regularly bring German beer, Polish sausage and Spanish fly to the highly trained astronauts, scientists and cosmonauts who toil on Earth's orbiting space station," Foredain added.
"Gratuities are optional."
Tragic Rabbit, Voice of London