This morning at 0719 EST while standing on my balcony and drinking a cup of coffee out of my Battlestar Galactica mug, I watched the International Space Station zip overhead. The pass was scheduled to begin at 0716, but due to clouds my roommate and I couldn’t see it until it was near the zenith. This was my first time watching the space station pass overhead, which may be surprising for some of you, considering what a “space nut/enthusiast” I am, but there is a reason for it.
The ISS has had a continual human presence aboard since November 2, 2000 and has been in orbit since 1998. That’s 3325 continuous days with humans in outer space, a time duration that’s increasing constantly. I would hope that, should events pan out in a timely manner, that November 2nd may become known as “Space Day” or something similar to commemorate the start of our extended and continuous reach away from our cradle.
So, why haven’t I taken the time to look at this marvel? Well, early on, I didn’t think that I would be able to see it. It had a low luminosity until the main solar arrays were added, I don’t own a telescope, and I lived near a major city with a lot of light pollution. As time progressed, I couldn’t find the time to take a look, plus I wouldn’t know when to stand outside and try to see it. Then, last semester, I was introduced to Heavens Above, a great site for locating man-made objects (and some natural ones) in the night sky. Of course, I checked out when the Shuttle or ISS would be passing over, but it was more cursory than to plan a day to actually watch it. So, Sunday night, I decided that I’d actually take a look this Tuesday.
The sky was a little cloudy, I had been up all night, and I was drinking coffee with my roommate, but what a sight! I didn’t really think that taking a look at a bright dot streak across the sky would mean so much to me, but it did. I was completely geeked, and I immediately afterward checked out when the next prime passing is (Thursday around 0630 EST). I didn’t think that I could be more excited about space since learning about my MDRS selection, but I was.
Funnily enough, I started thinking back to the last time I was extremely excited about something involving space, and I remembered SpaceShipOne. I’m sure that you all know that SpaceShipTwo, the first commercial space plane, was just revealed to the public, which is extremely exciting in of itself, but this is about SpaceShipOne and the Ansari X Prize.
I was in my freshman Biology class in high school, and each week we had to find a current event article about something in science each week. Most of mine were about the quest for the Ansari X Prize and the creation of SpaceShipOne, although I did have to look at some other articles from time to time. The prize wasn’t awarded until about a year later, but I was excited! I figured that becoming a commercial astronaut would still be pretty sweet, plus I’d probably be able to go into space much more frequently. When the Discovery Channel debuted Black Sky: The Race for Space, I spent the entire day watching it… Twice, in fact. It was just so cool!
And now, what’s next? It’s been 37 years and 1 day since the last manned mission to a location outside of NEO was launched (Apollo 17). Commercial suborbital flights are a year or so away, the ISS will be up for a few more years, I’ll be finishing up my undergraduate and graduate educations, and then I’m free. I almost have a need to go into space now, and every day just puts me one step closer to actually achieving it. The future’s going to be bright, much brighter than -3.5 mag.
Images courtesy of NASA and Scaled Composites, respectively.