CERN and ESA’s common roots to fly into space

ESA has named a space ferry after Edoardo Amaldi, one of the founding fathers of CERN but also of ESRO, the ancestor of ESA. Although they have developed in different ways, the three large European scientific organisations – CERN, ESO and ESA – have common roots. A webcast on the day of the launch of the spaceship from Kourou (French Guiana) will celebrate this fact with historic recollections and the participation of members of the Amaldi family.


The ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) number three will fly a document which has a very clear title: “Edoardo Amaldi, an ESA pioneer”. Given the fact that Edoardo Amaldi was also one of the founding fathers of CERN and that CERN gave birth to ESO, the idea to mark the event with a common action came quite naturally. The live webcast will take place on 23 March at 3 p.m. with the participation of Ugo Amaldi, CERN physicist and son of Edoardo Amaldi, Arturo Russo, historian and author with John Kriege of CERN and ESA's History, and Director for Research Sergio Bertolucci. A replay of the early morning launch of ATV 3 from Kourou will be featured.

The ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi will take fuel, water, oxygen, air and other cargo units to the International Space Station (ISS). The ATVs are space ferries designed by ESA to supply and refuel the Space Station without the need for any direct human intervention during the flight. The ATV-1, named after Jules Verne, was launched in 2008 and demonstrated that such vessels could indeed accomplish the cargo flight to the ISS safely and reliably. Subsequent ATVs have been named after famous scientists, who, besides Edoardo Amaldi, are: Johannes Kepler, Albert Einstein and Georges Lemaître. The mission of ATV-3 is set to start with lift-off on an Ariane 5 ES launcher. ATV-3 is planned to dock with the International Space Station’s Russian Zvezda module five days after launch (during the night of 28–29 March). The precise time will be known only after launch, which is set for 04:31 GMT on Friday, 23 March.

The proposal to name ATV-3 after Edoardo Amaldi came from the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The famous Italian physicist was a leading figure in the drive to pool European forces together in the name of science. Originally a nuclear physicist, Edoardo Amaldi became interested in space science after participating in the setting-up of CERN. He pushed hard for CERN to be used as a successful model to be followed for the creation of a new international scientific organisation. In a letter sent in 1958 to his friend Gino Crocco, Professor of Jet Propulsion in Princeton, Edoardo Amaldi wrote: “(…) I thought over the possibility of developing an appropriate activity in Europe in the field of rockets and satellites. It is now very much evident that this problem is not at the level of the single states like Italy, but mainly at the continental level. Therefore, if such an endeavour is to be pursued, it must be done on a European scale as already done for the building of the large accelerators for which CERN was created.” Ten copies of this five-page letter will fly onboard the ATV3 and will be brought back to Earth by a Soyouz launcher.

The live webcast at 3 p.m. on 23 March will retrace the vision of Edoardo Amaldi which led to the creation of the European Space Research Organization (ESRO), that later became ESA, through historic documents and the words of the best placed among witnesses: Amaldi's son. For more information see the ESA website.


by Antonella Del Rosso