The only way to experience the place is to prepare, and the only way to descend after those preparations is to give yourself over to the experience. There is no middle ground if the journey is going to be successful; there is no way to enter the Earth without getting covered in mud.
Every day, I’m aware that the number of times I might do what I’m setting out to do is like evaluating a helium balloon on the end of a string. It will float on the air, tied to a wrist, and by nighttime bob listlessly on the floor. Nothing lasts forever.
Success only comes from doing the thing that you want to say “you’ve done”, but that doesn’t always mean that you’re going to have a good time doing it.
Sometimes there are moments of beauty or epiphany or surprise that simply need to exist in the moments you experience them. You have to make peace with the thought that there simply won’t be a “later”. There won’t be a “future”. There won’t be a “payoff”. There is the experience, right now, and you just so happen to be lucky enough to experience it.
Things are happening simultaneously, small and large all the time, for everyone. The moment you remember that simple thought is the moment you notice the details happening right in front of you, wherever you happen to be.
Aboard that rocket is the accumulated effort of many diverse people, spanning years and miles. As it rises into space, the major engineering phase ends and the operational scientific phase begins --Photo by Bill Ingalls, NASA
Getting up before the sun on a November morning in Alaska may not be an honest way to represent a person's effort. The sun doesn't make much of an appearance at this latitude. The GPM team traveling to Japan takes that as a charge: we're not planning to hang around too long, either.
Back on the icy tarmac, we leave our steamy bus for the gelid confines of our twilight passenger cabin, up, up, up the precarious metal ladder to the top of the C5. Then we wait.
Turns out that the plane is fine. It's the runway that's too slick with ice.
Engines idling, bellies rumble. Breakfast never happens. The catering we'd expected in the second half of the trip didn't survive the days of our unexpected Alaskan idyll. People crack a few jokes--how could the overnight quartet of engineers assigned to babysit the satellite have eaten everyone's pancakes!-- but nobody complains. As soon as the Air Force clears us for take off, we're heading west at full throttle.
Nine hours above the Pacific, the team settles into zenlike repose. Conversations are minimal due to the ferocious airplane noise and requisite earplugs. Movement slows. Time expands.
Then, after an eternity, we're on approach. Human dynamos spin up. People run through mental checklists and stretch for action.
Minutes after the wheels stop beneath the gray airplane, people move like springs released. The advance team meets us on the ground with no greater ceremony than high fives and back slaps. In minutes the Japanese and NASA ground teams are rolling at full speed. The C5 nose and tail pops open, and it isn't long before our truck trailer gets pulled out the plane. Not far behind, the great white box holding the satellite rolls out smoothly, only to be bolted down to the waiting truck bed.
From a distance the scene looks like the epitome of an ant colony. Dozens of people with well- coordinated roles clamber and labor over objects many times their individual size, yet collectively manage to make short work of huge jobs. The American team coordinates care and feeding of their spacecraft; the Japanese ground team coordinates movement of heavy objects and extensive runway logistics. A handful of US Air Force crew provide essential assistance working in and around the airplane.
In a little less than three hours, the plane is unloaded, sealed up, and gone. With the satellite now loaded onto the truck, a motley foot parade walks alongside, heading a mile distant for a freshly paved section of sea port, retrofitted specially for this enterprise.
The Japanese ground crew performs like Cirque du Soleil; onlookers can only marvel at the display of technical acumen. They make it look easy. The truck pulls up like a demonstration of precision driving. A massive crane, already waiting, hoists a special I-beam into place. Working side by side, NASA mechanics and Japanese ground teams unbolt the satellite, hook lifting chains to the sides, and prepare. As the shades of night stretch shadows long, crews wheel in small, powerful outdoor lamps, turning the scene into an outtake from Close Encounters.
Then: it rises. The great white box containing the largest Earth science research satellite ever floats above the scene. Gracefully it swings over the edge of a great cargo ship, waiting at port. Then slowly it descends into the hold, disappearing beneath the railing. Another quartet of NASA engineers boards the ship, where together with a Japanese crew they'll sail for Tanegashima Island. First by air, now by sea, the satellite inches it's way to space.
Staring into a blank canvas or empty screen, toeing the starting line of an endurance race, taking the first step of a 2100 mile journey - the end seems so far away, impossible to conceive. Yet the human spirit never stops craving the unknown, the obscure - whether it be a scientific breakthrough or a foggy mountain peak. Maybe it's that challenge that drives change, fueling humanity's movement forward.
In a recent expedition to the top of Mt. Katahdin, arguably the most formidable mountain of the Northeastern US, this energy was physically tangible amid the intrepid climbers, as thick in the air as the clouds themselves. In many ways everybody on the peak was at the high point of their own pilgrimage - some were completing a six-month hike of the Appalachian trail, others had scrambled over the lichen covered granite for a challenging one-day hike. Everyone was together - smiling, congratulating, stripping to their skivvies for a well deserved photo-op - yet each individually had just completed their own trip into the unknown, overcoming their own pains and challenges, bringing their own creativity and two feet to get them to the top.
Every painting, every movie, every climb begins with the same inner quandary: insurmountable? Maybe. But there's only one way to find out. Commit to the first step, then put one foot in front of the other.'
VW text EE photos
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