The last flight of ATom2 took us from Anchorage, Alaska back to NASA Armstrong in Palmdale, California. As we pre-flighted in the wintery Alaskan pre-dawn, we noticed what looked like a protestor on the side of the road next to the ramp where we’d parked the DC8. We couldn’t read his sign, and wondered if he was perhaps protesting something to do with one of the companies on the ramp behind us. We later found out he was actually a supporter of our mission and pro-science activist.
The flight was pre-nostalgic, as we went through the only things that had really counted as familiar and routine over the past 5 weeks for the last time. Everyone was more chatty on headsets with the excitement of having almost completed the deployment.
Arriving back in Palmdale, many of us had colleagues waiting there to help us de-integrate from the plane and pack up. Chuck (Charles Brock), my post-doc advisor, and Franks (Erdesz), our lab engineer, were there to meet me. It felt funny to see them, and all the others again. You get so used to the 40 people you spend time with day-in day-out and while we interact with lots of different people at each location, they don’t usually come on the plane, or get involved with debriefs or instruments. It was definitely a happy reunion though, and wonderful to have their help in setting up an on-board calibration of the instruments (to check nothing had changed in instrument performance over the deployment) and then taking the rack apart enough to get it off the plane and packed up into a crate for shipping back to Colorado.
Arriving home felt good. A familiar space, no need to pack up and leave again, friends, routine, sleep, a single time-zone to adapt to. I was able to go straight back to work, and enjoyed the routine and familiarity of it, although it took a couple of weeks to fully adapt to the time-zone and feel really rested.
After unpacking the instruments and checking they’re ok, we settled into analyzing the data. There’s lots to evaluate with 2 deployments under our belts now, and pressure to get our data finalized and into the NASA archive for public release within a few months.