By Benoit Tessier
France has a launch pad 7,000 km away from Paris in French Guyana, an overseas region located on the northern Atlantic coast of South America.
For the first time in spatial history, two satellites from the Galileo navigation system program are going to be sent to space using the mythical Soyuz rocket which, during previous launches, sent the first satellite (Sputnik) and the first man (Yuri Garagarin) into space. The event is historic and shows the progress made in space exploration since the end of the cold war. The launch was delayed by three years from its original launch date and I was at last going to be the lucky one to cover the launch, designated “VS01”.
The only problem was that I had never set foot in French Guyana nor previously photographed a rocket launch!
Since its design back in the 50’s, Soyuz (“Union” in Russian) was built in the Samara space complex on the banks of the Volga. In order to get to French Guyana, all the various rocket parts were shipped from there. After 15 days of shipping, they eventually got to Pariacabo harbor, on the Kourou river where they were then carried by truck to the CSG (Guyana Space Center) launch site, specifically set up for Soyuz, located in Sinnamary where they were stocked. The Russian rocket could then be assembled in a big warehouse in order to be put upright.
There are only five hotels in Kourou and obviously they were all fully booked a long time in advance. I managed to find a room at a local’s house thanks to an advert placed on a local internet site. I set up my base camp there and emptied my luggage weighing 60 kilos after an eight hour flight.