On a recent Saturday night I pulled on my knit hat, zipped up my winter coat and met up with my 10-year-old next-door neighbor and her family in our respective backyards. We stood well over six feet apart and together watched a miracle 250 miles up: the International Space Station.
At 8:11 what looked like a big, bright star rose from the southwest on this perfectly clear evening and sailed across the sky for five glorious minutes before disappearing from view.
Think of it: An international crew in a flying lab traveling more than 17,000 mph – faster than four miles a second.
“At that rate you could visit me in about 30 seconds,” said Joe, who lives a three-hour drive away. Both my kids happened to be together, and they saw the space station, too. It was Joe who showed me the free ISS Detector app that lets me know when the space station will be visible from my backyard. The space station orbits the earth about every 90 minutes, but only sometimes is it in the right place at the right time in the sky for optimum viewing.
The joy I felt seeing the satellite came from sharing the excitement and thinking about what people from different countries and cultures can accomplish with imagination, math, science, and the drive to explore our world – and beyond.
So did an opinion piece in the New York Times that same day by former astronaut Scott Kelly. He offered advice to people cooped up because of the coronavirus, coming from a guy who spent nearly a year on the international space station: Go outside, enjoy nature, read a book, connect with people via video or phone.
What really touched me, though, were Kelly’s well-grounded observations:
“Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects,” he wrote. “Especially in a challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. …
“Seen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.”
After our space station sighting, my neighbor told her grandfather in the Czech Republic all about it. She’s going to use the ISS Detector app to let him know when it will be visible from his home. He lives in Brno, roughly 4,000 miles from Saratoga Springs –a mere 17 space-station minutes away.