Actually, they didn’t come from outer space. They came from Earth. Florida, to be exact. It’s a bit much to even say they are in “outer” space. They were just a couple of hundred miles from me tonight. That’s closer than friends in the San Francisco Bay area. In fact, they were closer to me than most of the rest of humanity, right at that moment. But they were in orbit, and I was standing in my driveway in Visalia, California.
I didn’t take this picture. It’s not of the sight from tonight. It gives only an idea of what I saw streaking across the sky above my home. Two points of light (streaks here due to shutter timing) floating silently overhead. The Space Shuttle Discovery, followed by the International Space Station.
I subscribe to a service that will send me a message by Twitter about Space Station transits viewable from my home. Today’s message told me a “very bright” ISS would be visible. I set the alarm on my iPhone. They neglected to mention that it would be a double whammy on this pass!
It was, literally, a once-in-a-lifetime event. I can’t begin to describe how I felt as I saw it.
The Discovery un-docked from the Station this morning, and has begun it’s maneuvers to return to Earth on Wednesday. Tonight’s pass had a bright star gliding out of the northwest, high in the sky. Suddenly, I noticed another star, trailing behind, shining even brighter. I was seeing something I had never seen before, hadn’t expected, and will never see again. Discovery leading the way, the Space Station following along. Both lit brightly by the sun, the station noticeably brighter due to it’s size and it’s highly reflective components and solar array panels, both lit because 200-some-odd miles up they had not yet passed into the Earth’s shadow. As they moved across the sky, towards the east, I stood in awe. There’s not too many things that choke me up, and it’s a bit strange to think that two bits of light streaking across the sky should, but there it was. I was torn. I didn’t want to take my eyes off, but I also was grabbing my iPhone, thinking “I have to Tweet/Facebook this!”. I sent out a quick blurb, trying to type and yet wanting to keep an eye on the sight in my sky. The Shuttle faded quickly, just past zenith, and seconds later so did ISS, as they passed into darkness above me. I stood there for a bit, knowing they were still there, gliding along, just invisible to me now.
People are in space. Right now. We’ve had people in space, on the International Space Station, continuously for over ten years. Before that, the Soviet (then Russian) MIR space station had crews aboard starting in 1986. We live in Earth orbit. We’re there. I wish I could pay them a visit. That, unfortunately, will never happen. The most I can do is stand in my front yard, look up at the night sky, and see them streak across, silently and majestically.
I’ll see the Space Station again. I may even see another Shuttle. But I’ll probably never see the Shuttle leading the way, the Space Station following, as they slowly separate at the end of a mission. The Shuttle program is almost over, the Discovery will not fly again, and orbital timing will make it a rare event to see a spacecraft and the station orbiting as separate, discrete objects over my home.
This is one for my personal record books. The visits to Kennedy Space Center, and Mission Control in Houston are in those books. Now, one more entry, and I didn’t even have to leave home. I am a lucky man, sometimes.