Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Monday, June 3, 2012 (11:15 a.m. EDT)

Our first day adventuring in Mongolia was certainly a day full of pleasant surprises.  Our morning began with a bit of nervousness as we waited to find out whether our equipment would indeed travel with us on the smaller plane from Ulaanbaatar to the Gobi Desert.  With help from our ISSET friends, the airline worked with us to make accommodations for the equipment, and from there, things progressed with excitement and optimism!
By early afternoon,  we made it to our first ger camp.  Ger camping is a pretty awesome experience, and learning about the nomadic traditions and lifestyle is fascinating.  Ger camps are clusters of large portable tent homes called “gers”.  I use the term “tent” loosely, as gers are nothing like western camping tents.  They have sturdy wooden frames and insulated covering with hinged doors and furniture inside (beds, little tables, etc.).  They are quite cozy and surprisingly warm provided you choose a ger near the middle of camp and not on the wind facing outer corner.  What can I say?  I thought that particular ger had the prettiest view… and I kept reminding myself of that at 3 o’clock this morning under layers of clothes and a wool blanket.

The highlight of the day was our visit to a stunning area called “Valley of the Vultures”.  This place is a haven for any geologist!  It was a striking contradiction of natural features with steep harsh rock faces, lush vegetation, and a valley of ice layers that have formed over thousands of years.  In this location, ice layers have built up each year because the winter snow never completely melts.  The beautiful blue color (seen in this photos - right) is created as the ice compresses and depletes the oxygen within the layers.  We were able to observe first-hand the features that makes this cold desert so unique.

And, of course, what is a leadership adventure without a leadership challenge?  We divided into teams and began our tasks for the week.  Under the guidance of Chris Barber, Michelle Ham, and Rhodri Evans, we completed our first team building and communications exercise… on horseback.  Teams elected a member who had never been around horses and coached that person through saddling and riding a Mongolian horse.  Scott Norman was our representative and, as you can see, he handled this challenge like a real Indiana Jones… he even loses his hat!  Go Scott – you were awesome!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Good morning from Ulaanbaatar! After three hours sleep, these beautiful hills were a wonderful sight to wake up to.  Check out these views from my hotel window.  This is just a hint of the incredible countryside we will be exploring as we make our way to the Transit of Venus base camp over the next day and a half.  We can't wait to begin our travels today! 

- Mary (on June 4th, 6:05 a.m. in Mongolia)
We are finally here - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia!  Thankfully, all of our luggage and equipment made it safely as well.  In just a few hours (after a tiny bit of sleep), we will meet up with the ISSET team and head to the Gobi Desert.  Look for more postings and pictures when we arrive at our first ger camp!

Sunday, June 3, 2012 (5:42 a.m. EDT):

We have arrived in Seoul, Korea, and are awaiting our departing flight to Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia!  The flight, though long, was extremely pleasant.  Korean Air definitely has our enthusiastic seal of approval.  

During the flight, we were browsing documentaries and found a series called "The Light at the Edge of the World". There were only two episodes available, and we were stunned to see that the two featured locations were Mongolia and Australia. No joke! So, we learned about the tradition of the Mongolian nomadic culture, specifically centered around the horse. Did you know that Mongolia is the only country in the world in which horses outnumber the human population? They consider the horse to be of spiritual significance and seek to find "wind horse", or their individual sacred bond with the animal. Tomorrow, our team will have an opportunity to meet the horses of Mongolia as we begin exploring the country with our colleagues from the International Space School Education Trust (ISSET).

Saturday, June 2, 2012 (2:43 p.m. EDT):

The complexity of this expedition is astounding.  Along the way, there is not just one major hurdle our team will have to overcome.  Rather, it is a series of many equally critical moments that will determine the success of this initiative.  In this situation, we will just have to take comfort in knowing that every step made without a hitch is one step closer to a Transit of Venus worldwide webcast!  So, with that in mind, here is our progress so far:
Thanks to an incredible TSA team in Atlanta, Georgia, our equipment is checked, secured, and on its way (we hope!) to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  We made our way through all checkpoints without any difficulty, and it gave us a fantastic opportunity to promote our project.  I have to admit, we made sure we were shameless.  See photo above of the “can’t miss” expedition tags on all of our bags.  These beautiful orange beacons (in combination with the fact that we were hauling an outrageous amount of tech gear with us) guaranteed at least a dozen inquiries from staff and passersby.  My favorite encounter was with the carry-on checkpoint security officer who had to search my bag as I explained how a satellite communications device would be used during my trip.  Turns out he knew an impressive amount about the Gobi Desert and admitted to being a geology buff when he was a student.  It reminded me how intimately connected we are to everything and everyone around us.  Really – what were the chances of beginning our journey with that conversation?  It seemed like the perfect indication that we were off to a flying start!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dear future explorer: 

We hope to excite your sense of wonder. We have seen how awed you are when you get to see a planet like Venus, Mars, or Saturn through a telescope. Imagine How much more exciting must it be to see one of those same planets silhouetted against the stunning backdrop of our Sun’s erupting activity? We invite you to discover by walking in the footsteps of explorers of the past. If you are able to live a moment in those shoes, everything you study, experience, and take for granted, becomes more meaningful and inspiring. This will be the one chance in your lifetime to walk in these shoes.
To nod to a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” Events like this allow you to explore that idea…to acknowledge the lasting impact of early scientists and the foundations that have fueled the progression of science as we know it today. Would we have traveled to the Moon or sent probes into space without the early observations and calculations gathered and derived by watching Venus transit the Sun? Quite possibly not.
We want to show you that you are standing on a planet that's part of a larger solar system, and that by making observations - such as those we're making of the Transit of Venus - we can understand more about the solar system, our universe, and our place in them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Final rig testing for the Gobi Desert Transit of Venus team. We fly to Mongolia in less than 24 hours!