One year ago yesterday (10th of June 2012) I ended a week in one of one of the most extraordinary countries I have ever visited – Mongolia. I had gone there as part the International Space School Education Trust (ISSET)’s “Astronaut Leadership Experience” to observe the very rare Transit of Venus.
Chris Barber, founder and director of ISSET, and I had decided to try to organise a trip to somewhere in the World to observe the 2012 Transit of Venus. Only the last 30 minutes or so would be visible from the Disunited Kingdom, with most of it happening when the Sun was still below the horizon as seen from this part of the World.
This would be the last of these rare celestial events until December 2117, so of course represented our last chance to see one in our lifetimes. After a little bit of research of where would be a good place to see it in terms of (a) the Sun being high in the sky for the whole Transit, and (b) a place with a reasonable likelihood of clear(ish) skies, we decided upon the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.
Chris then set about putting together what turned into an extraordinary itinerary for our week there. In addition to the Transit, which fell on Wednesday the 6th of June, he arranged a memorable series of places to visit and savour. Anyone was welcome to sign up, and when we arrived in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaator, our party consisted of people from the Disunited Kingdom, the USA, South Africa and Australia. The official team consisted of Chris, myself, and Michelle and Ken Ham from NASA.
After some 24 hours in the capital, which included going to see a performance of traditional dancing and throat singing, we flew to Dalanzadgad in the Gobi Desert early on the Monday morning. From there we headed to our first Ger camp, one of many we would stay in during our week in the Gobi. During the week we did a camel ride, climbed the “whistling dunes”, saw well over half of the 6-hour long Transit, visited the “flaming cliffs”, went to several Buddhist Temples, and travelled across many miles of this extraordinary part of the World.
But, despite the most dramatic scenery, the best part of the week were the people. During the course of the week I got to know some truly lovely people, and thankfully FaceBook has allowed us to stay in touch since going our separate ways on the 10th of June at the Genghis Khan International Airport in Ulaanbaator. I hope it is not too long before we can cross paths again.