January 22, 2007
Alina found out for Craig and I that we could take a free tour of the rocket facilities this afternoon, but that it would have to be in French, which neither of us speaks. The only way they'll do a tour in English is if we bring a group of twenty or more people, which of course, we didn't have.
Since our tour option was French or nothing, we decided to go with French. Alina drove us to the facility on her way back from her lunch break. It was an impressive modern place. The tour guide was a lady who spoke good English, and she apologized for only having the tour in French. We were given a long presentation about the facilities, and from what I could glean, it seemed that Kourou was the European Space Agency's main commercial launch site for geosynchronous satellites. The location was chosen because it's only four degrees north of the equator, resulting in 10% better fuel efficiency than launches from Cape Canaveral, it's well protected against hurricanes, and the launches occur over a completely unpopulated area (the Atlantic Ocean) in case anything goes wrong.
After the presentation, we were driven around the site. Every now and then, people would "ooh" and "ahh" and photograph seemingly unphotogenic places which I assumed were launch pads. The guide for this part of the tour said he didn't have time to translate anything into English, though, so I'm not really sure.
Seeing a modern rocket launching facility should have been fascinating, but it turned out to be pretty frustrating because I don't speak French. Fair enough, I'm in France, so French is obviously the local language, but this is supposedly the launch facility for the ESA, so you'd think they'd do tours in other languages. Maybe it's because the few tourists who seem to visit French Guiana are almost all from France.
The photo album for this entry is here.