On our first two visits to Kazakhstan in 2012, we never even made it near the exclusion zone: a metal trader met us near the boundary and handed the material over. When procuring the material for the “Earth Collection”, we wanted at all costs to be there when the booster fell from space.
A journey into the exclusion zone
Though we’d never managed to obtain authorisation to enter the rocket’s drop zone on previous trips, our chances this time looked significantly better: we were no longer strangers.
As we arrived to the metal trader’s premises, a lavish feast was waiting. Everyone was happy to see us. We’d come bearing generous gifts – including a watch from our “Atelier Collection” – and presented them in a ceremonious fashion. The watch was made from material our contact had gathered, and he recognised it immediately – though he could scarcely believe that the raw metal parts had resulted in such a beautiful timepiece. On account of this, and encouraged along by several vodkas, he declared to us at the end of the meal: “Let’s give it a go!”
The next day, after a number of telephone calls to local authorities, he informed us that we were good to go. The apprehension took our breath away – though we crashed back down to earth somewhat upon learning that the officer responsible for the exclusion zone still had to give his permission. We’d only receive it (or not) once we were already on site – so a little more patience was required. All we had at present was a non-binding promise. Equipped with this knowledge, we set out on the five-hour journey to the soldiers’ mobile cabins in the middle of the military zone.
Before arriving to the officer in charge of our fate, we drove round in an extra loop – our contact said it would bring us good luck. He parked the vehicle and approached the soldiers, a degree of apprehension visible on his face. We followed instructions to stay in the car, waiting intently to see what would happen.
A quarter of an hour later, he returned. “We can go!”
It was 19th October, 2016. The rocket was launched shortly after two o’clock. As we approached the first debris a few minutes later, the flames were still blazing. The air smelled of kerosene. Before us lay a booster from the Soyuz MS-02, the rocket we’d use to build our new collection.