From my perch here on the Nova Scotia South Shore, I’ve been getting at least one flyover of the International Space Station every night, usually around ten. It just made a spectacular pass, right after sunset, glowing brilliantly in the setting Sun that was still bathing it in light, up where it orbits, even though it was dark down here.
The ISS is in low earth orbit, varying from 300-400 kilometers up, whipping along at roughly 28,000 KPH, over eight times as fast as a rifle bullet, so fast it goes around the whole world once every 90 minutes, 15 times a day. It’s a big vehicle, over 70 metres long, but from down here it’s only a glowing point of light.
On a good clear night you can see it for eight or nine minutes, depending, as it arcs across the sky.
In between overflights, I sit here complacently in my living room, surrounded by scientific marvels. Right now I’m watching a 55 inch flat screen TV that can access the internet and stream programming, while I type on a tablet device the like of which was once provided as a futuristic prop for the actors playing the crew of the Starship Enterprise. A little earlier I was snapping pictures of a heron that sat outside, using the same tablet. Actually, it was a couple of apps installed on this amazing tablet thingy that tracked the orbit of the ISS for me (that’s a screen capture from the GoSatWatch app above), and indicated when I’d be able to see it, and where I should look in the sky from my vantage point in Mahone Bay to spot it when it went over. Nothing unusual these days, just as it’s no longer noteworthy that of course my devices, hooked in to the network of Global Positioning System satellites, always know exactly where I am on the Earth’s surface.
It’s impossible not to get jaded about all this, but now and then, you look up and realize that the glowing dot moving across the sky is an orbiting space station with six people inside, floating weightless and watching the planet roll by below, and it gives you pause to think we’ve mastered enough science and cleared enough technological hurdles to make that happen.
I tried to take a video, but at that my equipment was finally presented with a task it couldn’t manage. I found one posted that captured it:
It won’t be long before an ordinary slob like me can take a ride into space – too long for me, I guess, but not too long. I’m sorry I won’t get to do that, but standing here watching a crewed space station transit the sky is perhaps wonder enough.
If not, then how about if we throw in a live video feed from the ISS itself, since we can do that too, nowadays. No big deal.