In the night sky over Botswana, Africa, a solitary light arcs across a backdrop of stars. Fingers point and mouths open at the unfolding spectacle. The light is the International Space Station and it has 20 of us on an African overland adventure with Acacia Africa gazing upward amid the dusty desert sands of the Kalahari. While our team may be 200 miles below the space station, we feel connected as explorers – experiencing the challenging logistics of a nomadic existence and the necessities of teamwork and comradery all while relishing in the discoveries that are ahead. Our 25-day journey across the desert beauty of southern Africa serves as a most accessible means of exploration. It’s a personal opportunity to live exploration first-hand while pondering how our experience humbly mirrors that of a brave crew of astronauts.
We are experiencing Acacia Africa’s 25-day Desert Tracker itinerary as we trace across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Our ‘ship’ Rufunsa is traveling at a modest 50 miles per hour compared to the International Space Station’s 17,500 miles per hour. In perhaps closer comparison, we both carry our own supplies for maintaining a humble existence in harsh landscapes. Food, water and fuel are stored among the stove, tents and personal supplies carried in our overland vehicle. Pit stops in small African villages serving as our analogue to the space station’s docking with re-supply ships.
Our overland adventure team is experiencing one of the most enduring challenges in exploration; managing the blend of self-sustainability with reliance on our surrounding environment and logistical supply chains. It’s a primitive challenge that has accompanied explorers of the tallest mountains on the planet, the deepest undersea trenches, and frozen polar landscapes. The calculated discipline of self-reliance standing in contrast with the carefree comfort and convenience of resupply. Both ingredients for successful exploration when blended together. The more each of us experiences this balancing act, the more equipped we will be to explore some of the most exotic and foreign destinations the solar system has to offer.
Few instances of exploration have occurred by those who travel alone. The demands and challenges of exploration require the melding of diverse skills across a small team. Mere hours before we set out on our African overland adventure, we were but a collection of 20 strangers. From Australia, Austria, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and the USA, we each bring unique talents and ways of thinking to ensure a successful overland adventure. As the crews of the space station rely on diversity for managing daily tasks and unlocking the secrets of microgravity, we too blend our skills and interests to maximize this unique overland experience. The more we work together, the more we can experience for ourselves.
We are divided into teams; tackling tasks of packing the truck, cooking meals, washing dishes, and removing the accumulating desert dust from our truck. An overland adventure is not a normal holiday vacation. We are not only exploring the beauty of Africa, we are also learning the importance of teamwork and leadership. Although the team aboard the International Space Station is smaller, ranging from 3 to 6 crewmembers, tasks are similarly divided up. Maintenance activities are intermingled with cutting edge research. Critical spacewalks occur alongside cleaning the orbiting laboratory’s toilet. Exploration calls us to get dirty and work together. Through teamwork, we will be rewarded with amazing discoveries.
And Africa doesn’t disappoint when it comes to amazing discoveries. From the yawning expanse of Namibia’s Fish River Canyon to the crowded shores of the Chobe River in Botswana. From the powerful mist of Zambia and Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls to the majestic grazing of endangered rhinos in Zimbabwe’s Matobos National Park. These are but a few discoveries we experienced on our overland adventure with Acacia.
Although our discoveries are not new to the world, they are new to each of us. They are personal and resonate with our soul. They inspire us to explore more and encourage others to explore when shared. Exploration yields discovery and discovery inspires further exploration. It’s a cycle that repeats. Two hundred miles above us, that cycle is taking place at the forefront of science and technology. The discoveries that come from DNA sequencing in microgravity and testing of water recycling systems inspiring us to push further…to explore the boundaries of human cognition and ability. And while the discoveries we make in the deserts of southern Africa are simpler, they are nonetheless the product of living exploration first hand.
The zooming light above us fades as it slips toward the horizon. In about 90 minutes the space station will pass overhead again, but the Earth will have spun and the spectacle will unfold before a new audience. Aboard the laboratory, the crew is facing another day’s worth of logistical challenges, teamwork, and discoveries. Here in the Kalahari Desert, we will face similar, albeit simpler experiences. Our overland adventure allows us to humbly understand what it means to explore while making the discoveries that only Africa can offer. This is living exploration.
Images and Blog by: Simple Discoveries
Two former NASA rocket scientists are on an around-the-world journey, sharing discoveries of innovation and exploration as they travel. They recently partnered with Acacia Africa to compare the challenges and discoveries of overland travel to spaceflight while sharing examples of Africa’s natural beauty. You can read more and follow their social media at www.simplediscoveries.com.