Part 2 - Snakes, mosquitoes and 4Ls
Having followed so far the launch campaign from Paris, I went finally to Kourou on Saturday 1 December, the day after the 29th Ariane Programme Board (AR-PB).
At that time, there were no direct flights from Paris to Cayenne. You had to change planes at Fort de France, Martinique. The airport of Cayenne had no air conditioning, and you had to join the long queue in front of the only desk devoted to ‘foreigners’ (meaning persons not living in French Guiana) in order to get the famous stamp in your passport.
Once you had recovered your luggage and passed customs, there was no question of directing yourself to one of the counters in the hall in order to rent a nice air-conditioned car. You had to check with the CNES representative who was responsible for the ‘missioners’ and you were relieved when he had your name on his list. He then put you into a bus that took you to your hotel in Kourou.
At that time, there was no bridge over the mouth of the Cayenne River and cars had to take the ferry (which did not cross very often) or to make a large detour between Cayenne and Kourou. During the transfer, everyone was told in which hotel they would stay, with whom they would share a room and what room number had been assigned to them. It was also announced who was supposed to have a car and with whom they had to share it. Privileged people like me had the chance to have a room and a car to themselves.
The cars we were given were the famous robust Renault 4Ls, with no air conditioning and the engine regulated for a maximum speed of 90 km/h! Maybe that was not such a bad thing, since there were some malicious holes on the road between the hotel and the launch base. Sometimes in the morning, on the way to the base you could see snakes on the road, flat as a sheet of paper, run over by cars during the night.
One of my tasks there was to write and send a daily report to Paris for the information of my boss, the DG and the Delegations to the AR-PB. That was the reason why almost every day I left our office (the ESA/K office) at about 9 p.m. and arrived at the hotel (Hôtel des Roches) when almost all of the other non-operational people had finished dinner and the truck that dispersed every evening a mixture of water and petrol against the mosquitoes into the darkness had already passed in front of the hotel.
See Part 3 - Preparing for the launch
For more information:
Interviews about Ariane with key figures of the European space programme can be found at ESA's Oral History web site. They are: Frédéric D'Allest, Michel Bignier, Peter Creola, Hubert Curien, Bernard Deloffre, Roy Gibson, Klaus Iserland, Guy Kramer, Raymond Orye and Yves Sillard.