Wednesday night after sundown, when normally I’d be looking for the three stars that signal the end of a Jewish holiday, I was also scanning the night sky for the International Space Station, which is making a series of unusually bright flybys this week and next. I entered the nearest town at NASA’s sightings site, which gives exact times and locations in your area.
And there it was — a distant unblinking star, perhaps more gold than silver-white, streaking across the sky at about the pace of an airplane. NPR explained that it is about the size of a football field, including the endzones. Two nights in a row I’ve gathered the family on the front lawn to wave as the six astronauts shoot by at five miles a second.
Truth be told, I’ve never given a thought to the ISS before this, and now I’m a little obsessed. Yesterday, Flight Engineer Cady Coleman gave a guided tour of the station with a high-definition video camera. The interior looks less like the sleekly antiseptic sets of 2001 than it does an over-used college physics or engineering lab — lots of tangled wires, bags of equipment lashed down with bungee cords, empty space suits, battered cabinetry. And there’s an M.C. Escher quality too — since there’s no gravity, the distinction between floor and ceiling disappears, and doors and equipment appear at unexpected angles and orientations to one another.
The climax of Coleman’s tour is a visit to the cupola, through whose windows the earth glows bright and blue and beautiful. The sight was unexpectedly moving.
Appropriately enough, Google reminds me that today is Earth Day.