Sunday, May 10, 2009

Learning and Savoring--International Space Station

Whenever it's possible, I stand outside at night and watch the International Space Station silently move across the Florida sky. I cannot remember who first told me about the orbit information on NASA's educational website, but I owe that person a debt of gratitude. Since I can personally remember the very first rockets and satellites to soar triumphantly beyond our atmosphere as well as the heart-stopping disasters and near-disasters in space exploration, I retain some of the original awe I felt watching news coverage of those firsts. I don't expect that I will ever consider space exploration routine or uninteresting. 
As a child, I loved watching the night sky, contemplating the ever-changing moon, and learning the names of constellations and stars. Now, walking our dog late each evening, I am still that child, looking up in amazement.
Last night, the space station glided magnificently above us here in Jacksonville (and above many others, of course). It was visible for over 4 minutes, reaching the highest point in the sky of any time I have watched (maximum, 80 degrees above the horizon--in other words, almost straight up), traveling from our southwest to northeast. The recently installed additional solar panels render it brighter and larger-looking than ever. I do not know the entire range of its changing orbit, but I do know that it is visible at times from many different states and countries on earth. The link to click for viewing opportunities where you live is at the end of this post.
The photo above comes from the NASA website and was taken looking down at the Colorado River snaking almost vertically down the center of the photo toward the Grand Canyon gorge at the lower right. Didn't find a good photo looking down on Florida, but this one will do to illustrate a thought that fascinates me as I look up--that someone in the space station might be looking down at the same time. It is difficult to articulate the sense of human connection in spite of distance which I feel at that thought. 
I hope that if you are intrigued, you will take a look at the website and perhaps be privileged to view these explorers for yourself one clear night.
For information, follow the prompts on the left side of  THIS PAGE
at NASA's site, beginning with "Go to country".
Question of the night: What do you think and feel as you look up into the night sky, just as people have looked up for thousands of years before us?

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