You wouldn’t have signed up for the experience if you had a choice. Choice is the great luxury, the downy pillow beneath a tired head in a private sleeping car on a long journey. Reality is a seat in steerage on a wooden bench, with inadequate ventilation and a colicky baby in the row behind you.
As we descended into Alaskan airspace, we learned we were going to refuel on the tarmac at Elmendorf AFB. We were going to push hard to get back in the air, maybe two hours, maybe three. We touched down, rolled up, shut down, sat up. Then we got instructions: no walking around in the cabin. Why? Static electricity could build up, ignite the fuel. They weren't joking. But that's so yesterday. This morning we awoke when our body clocks kicked us out of bed, no alarm clock necessary. A snow-dusted muster in the Air Force's North Star Inn lobby soon became a bus ride back to the runway. With an ice storm pressing in with several inches of snow forecast to follow, the Air Force determined that we either had to get gone or stay another day in Alaska. Ah, the best laid plans... We stayed. Ice covered wings on a C5 doesn't augur well, and the de-icing plan simply couldn't counteract meteorology. It was a good try, but soon our overheated bus has us heading back to billeting. They say armies travel on their stomachs. Add teams of NASA engineers to the list. With nothing but time on our hands (save for our exasperated logistics experts) thoughts turned to the singular subject of food. Unloading the precious satellite? Transporting it across Japan? International permits, weather issues, electronic safety tolerances, humidity inside the shipping container, landing permits outside of our originally scheduled plans? Nope. Breakfast, please. Someone figured out where to find the base cafeteria, and a droopy trail of cheechako--that is, folks from the lower 48 states--gingerly made their way across the icy sidewalks to find grub. But not everyone. Back at the airplane, the GPM satellite sat like a spoiled pasha in a temperature and humidity controlled box. That meant rotating shifts of our engineering wizards needed to stay at the plane, babysit, troubleshoot, monitor vital statistics. After all, the contents of that box is why we're all here. It's just that being here isn't helping us do anything useful with the contents of that box.