The Antonov 124-100M, transporting the Gaia spacecraft, took off from the Toulouse Blagnac airport at 20:00 on 22 August. I was part of the cargo as passenger together with two Astrium colleagues: one of them, Tommy, was in charge of regularly checking that the temperature and humidity levels inside the Gaia container were always pleasing the spacecraft (those conditions were maintained by two independent air conditioning systems). The rest of the crew were nine members of the flight team (pilots, flight engineers, meteorologist, etc.) and the team of eight in charge of uploading and offloading the cargo, all Russian speaking.
After a couple of hours of flight we landed in Porto to fill the tanks of the Antonov since the fuel is cheaper in Portugal than in France. The fueling needed about two hours and required four trucks of gasoline.
We left again just after midnight and we landed after eight hours at the Cayenne airport in French Guiana. Local time was 3:45 am, weather was already hot and wet. The flight was smooth and reasonably comfortable for the passengers given the fact that the Antonov is a (very efficient) flying truck. The food, embarked in Porto, was excellent with a remarkable “plateau de fromages”.
The offload of the cargo started at 5:00 am with the arrival of the Astrium team and was completed by 10:00.
The spacecraft arrived safely in the clean rooms of the space centre by lunch time.