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Massive, rocket-powered, robotic craft begins delivery mission to space station

The 13-ton cargo freighter is loaded with about 7.2 tons of supplies, including food, water, clothing, experiments and fuel for the space station, according to NASA.

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An Ariane 5 VA205 rocket with the third Automated Transfer Vehicle Edoardo Amaldi lifts off from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch centre in Kourou, French Guiana, March 23.

S. Corvaja/ESA/Reuters

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A huge robot European cargo ship launched to the International Space Station today (March 23), lighting up the night sky over the northeast coast of South America to begin a five-day journey to deliver key supplies to the orbiting outpost.

The European Space Agency's third Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-3) lifted off at 12:34 a.m. EDT (0434 GMT) atop an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. After a brief light show, the rocket slipped through a cloud layer and soared into orbit.

The 13-ton cargo freighter is loaded with about 7.2 tons of supplies, including food, water, clothing, experiments and fuel for the space station, according to NASA. The unmanned ATV-3 is the heaviest load of cargo ever delivered to the station by a robotic spacecraft, ESA officials said in a statement.

The vehicle is scheduled to arrive at the space station on March 28 at 6:32 p.m. EDT (2232 GMT).

"This is just the start of a very long journey which will take the Edoardo Amaldi into space for about five months," ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said after the successful launch. "It's a good start; a very good start." [Dazzling Night Launch Photos of Europe's ATV-3]

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