NASA’s C-130 Hercules and crew safely touched down at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, after an around-the-globe journey to deliver the agency’s Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory (GUSTO). The United States research station, operated by the National Science Foundation, is host to NASA’s Antarctic long-duration balloon campaign in which the GUSTO mission will take a scientific balloon flight beginning December 2023.

The first-ever mission to Antarctica for the NASA C-130 aircraft presented several long-haul cargo flight challenges. Mission managers and NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR) started early to stay ahead of coordination of international flight clearances.

The C-130 crew, which has now completed half of the 26,400-nautical-mile round-trip journey, first stopped at Fort Cavazos, Texas to load the GUSTO observatory and members of its instrument team. Additional stops to service the aircraft and for crew rest included Travis Air Force Base, California; Hickman AFB, Hawaii; Pago Pago, American Samoa; and Christchurch, New Zealand, before finally reaching McMurdo, Antarctica, a mere 800 miles from the South Pole.

GUSTO, part of NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program, is set to fly aboard a football-stadium-sized, zero-pressure scientific balloon 55 days and beyond, on a mapping mission of a portion of the Milky Way Galaxy and nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. A telescope with carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen emission line detectors will measure the interstellar medium, the cosmic material found between stars, and trace the full lifecycle of that matter. GUSTO’s science observations will be performed in a balloon launch from Antarctica to allow for enough observation time aloft, access to astronomical objects, and solar power provided by the austral summer in the polar region.