A couple of nights ago, I was on Twitter (I’m always on Twitter) and @inshin tweeted about the #ISS – or International Space Station. He seemed to be suggesting that it could be seen from the earth with the naked eye, but… surely that wasn’t possible, was it?
I tweeted about it and a number of people assured me that it was indeed possible and that if I went to this website, I could find out when the ISS was due to pass over my location and then, if it was a clear night, I’d be able to stand outside, mouth agape, and wait for it.
Once I’d established that it was due to pass over at 9.43pm, I spent the day giddy with excitement. But by 6pm the sky was dark and cloudy and so I didn’t think it would be possible. At 9.30, I was watching Glee and my husband pointed out of our back window and said, “Is that it?” I’d read that it would look like a very bright star and be moving slowly and this – once I’d climbed up on a chair since I couldn’t see it from the floor – certainly looked like a very bright star, but I couldn’t see it moving. The sky looked pretty clear, though, and a lovely bright blue. I sat down. I watched a bit more Glee. I stood up again and I could see it! Without climbing on the chair! Which meant it was moving. I climbed on the chair and took some photos, even though all they would show would be a tiny star. But I knew my 5-year-old, Harry, would want to see it.
A bit later, I went out into the street to see if I could get a better shot and noticed lots of other very bright stars. I started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t the ISS after all. I mean, I’d read that it would take two minute to pass over and we’d been staring at that very bright star for about 20 minutes by then. And then I saw it… and it was unmistakeable. It did indeed look like a bright star, but it was clearly moving and moving fast too. It arced above me as I stood, mouth agape, and butterflies burst to life in my stomach. I was looking at space. I was looking at a Space Station! There were people up there. In space! Sailing past me and on to who knows where.
I shouted to David to come and look. He hadn’t shared my enthusiasm previously, but when I pointed and said, “Look!” he said, “Oh yeah. Bloody hell!” After, yes, about two minutes, it disappeared from view and my eyes filled with tears. It made me feel small, but also part of something so much bigger. It made me feel proud. And it made me feel alive. From now on, I’ll be looking for it every opportunity I get.
[The photograph is from the Astronomy Photo of the Day site and shows astronauts Robert L. Curbeam (USA) and Christer Fuglesang (Sweden) building the station. Yes, building it in space. It’s so large that it couldn’t be launched all at once and was instead built piecemeal in space. Isn’t that astonishing?]
[It seems that the very bright, slow-moving “star” I’d been staring at was probably a planet. Venus, Mars or maybe even Jupiter. This idea also thrills me.]