Dec. 19 - The European Space Agency launches its GAIA satellite on a mission which it says ''will have the key to unlocking the Milky Way galaxy''. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) The European Space Agency (ESA) on Thursday (December 19) successfully launched its billion-star surveyor Gaia at 9:12:19 GMT from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Fueling of the launch vehicle, a Soyuz ST-B rocket, started about four hours before. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHIEF SCIENTIST OF GAIA MISSION, MARK MCCAUGHREAN, SAYING: "So GAIA is a satellite. But it's a mission which will have the key to unlocking the Milky Way galaxy which we live in. It'll measure the positions of a billion stars but also their speeds, their motions. And with that we can run a movie of the Milky Way. We can run it forwards into the future, how the Milky Way will develop by looking at all the stars and how they move. But we can run it backwards as well, and we can see how the Milky Way actually formed in the first place." The 53 metre-high mobile gantry surrounding the vehicle was removed before the final countdown began. Gaia's mission is to conduct the biggest cosmic census yet, charting the positions, motions and characteristics of a billion stars to create the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way. Gaia will be conducting its mission from 'L2', a gravitationally stable point in space some 1.5 million kilometres 'behind' Earth as seen from the Sun. Gaia is expected to arrive in its orbit around L2 in about three weeks' time.