September 14th, 2010

For many of the 39 members of the AMS Collaboration who followed the experiment in Florida, the trip on the C-5M from Geneva to the Kennedy Space Center has been a little adventure inside the much bigger adventure of building AMS-02. We’d like to share it a bit with our readers through some pictures taken during that exciting journey.

We left very early on the morning of the 26th August from Geneva Airport. At 6:10 am, the C-5M, with its open belly and AMS-02 already inside the cargo, was waiting for us.

We were welcomed by Captain Matt Matis and his 13-member crew, arrived in Switzerland after transporting supplies to Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ll learn later how much excited they were about this trip, fully aware of the importance of their payload. We look forward to meet them again in February for the launch.

After climbing the steep boarding ramp, we’re in the cabin.
It’s a no frills place, but we don’t care.
We know this won’t be a pleasure trip, and we’re so happy to be here anyway: after all these years, our “Baby” is going to Cape Canaveral,
a few steps from the launch pad.

Though, there’s a lot of room for us, as we occupy only half of the 70 seats. The distance between the rows is business-class level, very good news for the taller among us.

It’s also pretty dark: except for the very small portholes above the four emergency exits, the cabin has no windows. we are seated in the opposite direction of flight, giving our back to the cockpit.

Michael Cory, the first pilot, gives some information about the flight: it will last 10 hours and 10 minutes, he says, and it should be a very smooth flight.
Then everybody gets a couple of yellow earplugs. The C-5M is not soundproofed like the commercial airliners; when the engines start running, the noise is overwhelming. Crew members wear headsets with microphones to speak to each other, but we will have to shout.

The engines are switched on, the aircraft belly is closed, we fasten the seat belts. At 7:00 am sharp,
we take off!

We had a very uneventful flight. A couple of meals, of course no movies and no looking outside, and because of the noise even chatting was difficult. But we weren’t short of things to do; the next weeks at the Kennedy Space Center will be very busy, there’s a lot to check, to test, to check again before AMS gets loaded in the Endeavour’s bay. The launch date is six months away, but we know that six months can be a very short time, and we better have everything planned well in advance

We spent most of the flight time working on our computers. Many of us also had a nap (as the seats can be dismounted one could take out the arms and sleep laying down) and someone even contributed to the aircraft maintenance!

Of course, somebody also went to have a look to AMS in the C-5M bay, a very impressive scene. Although, even if we could move freely in the cabin, in the cargo bay we had to be escorted by the crew.

As announced, we landed exactly 10 hours and 10 minutes after the takeoff. A very emotional moment, because, even if we couldn’t see it approaching, we knew that we were landing on one of the most famous runways of the world: the “Strip”, the landing site of the Space Shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center. The very same place where the Shuttles touch down at the end of their missions in space, hailed with the traditional “Welcome back home” by Mission Control. And we’re there! With AMS! At least!

And there’s a lot of Very Important People waiting for us too. But this will be the second part of our story.