Sunday, June 04, 2023

My French Guiana adventure: Day 4

Today, I visit a spaceport! But first, breakfast. It seems like no brick and mortar eatery in French Guiana opens before 10:30. My tour is 40 minutes away from my hotel and it starts at 7am. Where am I going to eat?

Fortunately, I see a few blue collar guys hanging around this red Peugeot van in Kourou, so I make a u-turn and order a sandwich.

My 5 euro sandwich comes with beef, egg, and cheese. It's super filling and I cannot finish it before the tour, it's so big.

I had assumed the three-hour all-French tour was going to have us walk around a museum and peek into the command center. I had no idea we were going to be on a bus driving all over the spaceport! Our driver is Polynesian and our tour guide is super accommodating. Even though I am the only non-French speaker, she would come up to me after each stop and explain everything in English.

The facility is expansive. Because of French Guiana's proximity to the equator, it takes 25% less fuel to launch a rocket into space. The main rockets in use are Ariane 5 (soon to be 6) and Vega. Soyuz is no longer used since the Ukraine invasion. France and Russia have a long space friendship. The first French astronaut was sent up in a Soviet rocket in the 1980s. 

Security is tight. Army, navy, air force, police, Foreign Legion. They all protect the spaceport. 

The first stop is at an Ariane rocket launchpad. And our bus drives through it! There are two sets of parallel railroad tracks that are used to slowly transport the rocket from the hangar to the pad.

The rocket flames go down a hole, through that yellow tube, and away from the launchpad. That's a water tower next to the tube.

The rain stops briefly and we get out of the bus. This is a shot of the launchpad we just drove through.

The food at the spaceport is catered by Sodexo.

We then climb an elevated bunker where people can observe Vega launches.

The gray building in the background is the Soyuz launchpad. Supposedly, it looks totally different from the Ariane and Vegas launchpads because of the Soviets' different philosophy. We can't get closer because it has been completely shut down.

A sloth!

Here is the control room. VIPs and guests sit in comfortable lecture hall-style seats behind the windows.

There is a Lego model of the control room and lecture hall.

The four top VIPs, including a representative from France, sit here. She is the one who counts down from ten before blastoff. That orange phone is for emergencies, such as when an errant rocket needs to be destroyed.

I return to Cayenne, stock up on provisions for my upcoming road trips, and have dinner at a Creole-Haitian-Vietnamese place. It's just me and a table of 20 hot cops. I order a punch, thinking it's like sangria. It's actually a local specialty that you make yourself at your table. It's just rum, cane sugar syrup, and lime.

For my entree, I order stew. They have chicken, beef, fish, and pakira. Not knowing what pakira is, I order it. It's skunk pig.

Tomorrow, I drive 300 kilometers to the Suriname border.


ichiballs said...

How was the skunk pig?

Maxichamp said...

@ichiballs: Didn't really have a flavor. It was not very tender.