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NASA ISS Resupply Mission to Kourou, French Guiana

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A few years ago I get this call for help. It’s a Wednesday coming up to a three day weekend and the customer tells me we have to get this cargo to French Guiana by Monday of the following week. Are you kidding? French Visas are needed and flight clearance to get into South America. Since I’m not a can’t do it kind of guy I stepped up to the challenge as long as the customer was willing to pull strings where needed…like the State Department to help us get the entire crews French Visas.
French Guiana
Not only that but I had a green horn that had just gotten to our Branch shortly before this and someone needed to go to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. So the green horn gets to hop a C-5 to Kwajalein while I cruise out to French Guiana on the NASA C-9 Zero Gravity aircraft.

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Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands

So the story goes that cargo was trapped in customs in France and NASA nor the European Space Agency (ESA) had any confidence that it would make it out in time for the ATV 2 launch. I don’t understand all the intricacies of it but apparently there are only so many windows during the year that a launch can take place depending on the location in the world. If this cargo didn’t make it to this specific location in French Guiana by the following week then the Astronauts on ISS would have to wait months for another resupply mission.

So now we’re back to my phone call and the frantic work to get a complete copy of what was needed for the resupply. Luckily getting the cargo wasn’t my job but getting it there was. But that wasn’t going to be easy either. Most of the cargo had to be kept temperature controlled which wasn’t going to be an issue unless we were held up anywhere.

Now the fun starts….French Visas in hand, flight plans filed and cargo loaded (part of it anyway) we’re ready to start the first leg of our trip.  The plan was to fly from Johnson Space Center (JSC) to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and pick up the rest of our cargo and then head off to French Guiana via a stop in San Juan, Porto Rico for fuel.

Arrival at KSC was on time and we were ready to load the rest of our cargo….which we did…but that’s when things started to get out of control.  WAY over our heads conversations were taking place between the leaders of NASA and the ESA.  We’re talking VERY high level conversations and as it was put to us this mission was now responsible for preventing an International Incident.  I didn’t quite get it but I did get the fact that I had loaded all the cargo and now we were being held up because of some political mumbo jumbo.

We weren’t sure at this point what was going to happen but it was May in Coco Beach, FL and the inside of our C-9 was becoming dangerously close to the temperature limits required for our cargo.  So I ordered air-conditioning carts be brought out to the aircraft.  within the hour two air-conditioning carts were sitting at the back of the aircrafts rear stairwell with huge 12″ hoses blowing cool air inside the cabin to keep the cargo at the required temperatures.

Then it came, we’re going into crew-rest team!  Apparently this situation was becoming more political by the minute and so began a two days layover in Coco Beach.  Every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day I was sent a text message with temperature readings from the inside of the aircraft.

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I’m all the way on the left. Pic was taken at the airport in French Guiana after the cargo was offloaded.

 

Two days later we’re off to San Juan for fuel, finally, and then on to Kourou, French Guiana to drop off our cargo.  At this point I’m asking how is it we’re still making the timeline for launch when this cargo had to be in place by Wednesday and it’s now Friday.  Well, we were lied to!  The cargo need to be there early so it could go through processing and such and even though we were a couple of days late they could still get all they needed to get done.  Thanks for being honest fellas…..

So now we’re off once again to Porto Rico for fuel and then another overnighter at KSC before heading home.  Or so we thought….

Upon decent into San Juan one of the maintenance personnel was looking out the window awfully hard at that left engine.  I wasn’t on headset at this time but I could tell by the look on some faces that something wasn’t right.  When we landed I got the word that some part, can’t remember which, had stopped working and it was a rather important part and we’d be staying in San Juan until another part could be flown in.

Now we’re talking….cargo delivered….no worries about when we “had” to get back home….great weather in PR and a broke airplane.  I can’t remember which hotel we stayed in but it was nice and right in the middle of everything!  Can you say free vacation!!!

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At this point I was hot and tired. We had walked miles all over that damn Island. But it was fun and now it was time to have a piña colada at the very place where it was invented.

 

 

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A couple days later, a few beers consumed, more piña colada’s than I’ll admit to, loosing several thousand dollars at the casino and a few laps at the pool the plane was fixed and we were on our way home.

At this point everyone was ready to get home.  My boss was having a small fit because I was out the of the office s long and she didn’t exactly understand the aircrew lifestyle anyway.  Me, I learned early on a 3 day TDY could easily turn into a two week TDY without notice so always pack extra underwear.

We arrived back home without incident, International issues averted, good time had and lastly but not least a very successful mission complete!

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About the Author:

Christopher "Patches" Norton is a Retired 20 year United States Air Force Master Sergeant. Chris also served 5.5 years as the Lead Loadmaster on the Super Guppy Transport at NASA Johnson Space Center. Chris was Disability Retired from NASA in 2012 following an injury on a Super Guppy mission. As a Veteran, Chris turned to the Veterans Administration medical system for assistance and this is where this story really begins. What Chris seen at the Houston, TX VA Hospital left him with an urgent feeling and need to give back. So Chris has a new mission....to tell his story.....his Post Military Adventure! Struggles blending in with Society, dealings both good and bad with the VA and what he's learned from other Veterans. *********************************************************************** DO NOT READ BELOW UNLESS YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY DISCLAIMER.....MOST will not make any money at all with this. Some will....the difference is what you have inside of you and what you're willing to do and share. Just as the Bible says, it's better to teach a man to fish than give him one. Chris searched and found the Empower Network and saw how he could bring help to 100's, 1000's and even tens of 1,000's in a powerful way. Although all of us have different challenges, Chris believes the Empower Network WILL work for anyone... and CLICKING RIGHT HERE is how it starts!!!

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