Closest approach in 63 years… and in my lifetime
Closest approach in 63 years… and in my lifetime
Once again last night, we saw a great fly-over of the International Space Station. We watched it for a full five minutes in our backyard as it first became visible in the southwest, proceeded to fly directly overhead, then finally flew off in the northeast. I first started watching these great flying machines in space back when the space shuttle was still flying and a schedule of their fly-overs was made available, along with the fly-overs of the space station.
I will never forget one very memorable sighting that our whole family witnessed a few years ago, even though I don’t remember which space shuttle mission it was that year. We dined out together that clear night in 2007 at a restaurant on the far western edge of town, where the view was great with few street lights or other viewing obstructions around. We finished our dinner about ten minutes before the scheduled fly-over for that night, so we all went outside to the edge of the parking lot away from the lights and just waited to watch it together. This was the first time that I persuaded my family members to hang out and watch this awesome sight with me, and while I was jokingly accused of losing my mind when they grew impatient to see it after a few minutes, they were quite impressed once it happened.
Right on time, just as the last light of the sun was barely waning in the west, we first saw the space station as it approached from the southwest, and about three minutes later, the space shuttle was seen as it was still in its approach to the space station. The shuttle was still chasing the station to catch up to it after launching the day before in Florida, and it was quite a sight to see as they both flew off to the east, not flying directly over our heads but still very visible to us for several minutes. This was the only time that I ever saw both the shuttle and the station together in a single viewing, and it was one of those rare moments that was so memorable and special. I will always remember seeing it with my family, too, especially when they had to admit that mom really had not lost her mind after all. 😉
It is simple follow the passes of the space station in the area where you live. Just go to this link at NASA and sign up for text message alerts. They are usually sent the morning before an evening flyover later that same day, and of course, your normal text messaging rates will apply. One of these days, I hope to grab a long exposure photograph of this great sight, too.
Over the past few days as I’ve been preparing for another trip in the RV, I’ve tried to pinpoint what it is about camping that is so attractive to me now. One thing that first comes to mind is the fact that I will once again be able to see the stars at night so much better than here in the city. I love to look at the stars late at night when the world around me is very still and quiet. There is something so “other-worldly” about kicking back in my comfy outdoor recliner when things are quiet on a night with no moon and literally millions of stars overhead, especially when we are camped in a good dark sky location.
If you’ve never been to a real dark sky destination, then you may not be able to fathom just what I’m talking about here. You cannot help but look at the stars due to their brilliance in a good dark sky setting. It is a sight that is so rare to see nowadays for those of us that live near city lights or even near smaller towns because the light pollution just covers up their visibility.
I will never forget my first real dark sky experience in 2011 when we camped in the Davis Mountains of far West Texas for the first time on a clear winter night with no moon. I wish I had words to accurately describe what I saw in the sky that night, but I don’t. I don’t think there are words that could ever describe it because it was just unbelievable to me at the time, especially since I was totally unprepared to see it for the first time. I am a visual person, and that is why I love photography. But at that moment, I was seeing something I had never seen in my fifty years of living. As I gazed up at that stunning sky that night, it didn’t take me long to realize that this could potentially be once of those “once in a lifetime” moments, so I spent a few minutes just attempting to take it all in. Soon my husband also came outside to see the sight, too. As tired as I was after our long drive that day, I think I could have literally stayed up all that night just star-gazing. It was magnificent, truly a sight to remember, and I see now what attracts some people to be astronomers. I really wanted to stay out longer that night to just soak it all in.
Since this week is International Dark Sky Week, I wanted to just share what this means to me, especially as we go camping. We are definitely more conscious of our own light pollution now when we camp in dark sky destinations on nights with no moon. There are times that we enjoy our outdoor lights for a little while at night when star-gazing is not really a big deal, but when it is, we turn off all of our outdoor lights and most of our indoor lights at night, and we’ve seen other campers do the same thing out of courtesy to those that want to see the stars. This is a nice camping courtesy that we quickly learned about on our first trip to the Davis Mountains, and I encourage all campers to keep this in mind when traveling to dark sky destinations, especially on nights with no moon. We realize that other campers may have traveled hundreds of miles to see the stars in a real dark sky setting, and I certainly would never want to spoil that opportunity for anyone.
This is a good video about the dark sky project, which I think is very interesting and something to think about, for sure.
We cannot always plan our camping trips during dark sky weeks, but it is certainly an added bonus for us when we can. The stars are definitely big and bright and make for great memories. I encourage everyone to become educated on dark sky etiquette, then pick a dark sky destination, and enjoy the fabulous view!
I am so sad to hear of the death of Neil Armstrong. I was just a kid when he and Buzz Aldrin made their now famous flight to land and walk on the moon for the first time. It made a profound impression on me at the time, and as I have read the comments of others today regarding his death, I realize that I am definitely not the only person that was so impacted by watching the first moon landing. I seriously doubt that there will ever be another moment in time around the world like that one either. For just a little while, everyone around the globe seemed to just stop what they were doing to watch this all play out on live TV, many of us watching it along with Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra, who actually got misty-eyed at one point.
I’ve been able to spend some time over the past ten years or so reading more about Neil, Buzz, Mike Collins and all of the Apollo missions. It really is fascinating to read all about the missions and the astronauts involved, and the internet has made much of that information very easy to find, along with some fabulous pictures. This photo gallery is one of the best ones that I’ve found, too.
Many of the Apollo astronauts and some key people at NASA, like Gene Kranz and Deke Slayton, wrote great books. I’ve read some of them and intend to read the others as I can, too. While some are fairly technical and way above my head at times, they are still great reads as these heroes share their own stories in their own way, and to me, they were very inspiring. I even have the Apollo 11 mission videos bookmarked in my You Tube account. Occasionally, I watch them and just remember that fabulous time when we all really did reach for the stars for the first time – and made it, right alongside Neil and Buzz. I only wish the generations that have come after me could somehow have that same experience in their own lifetimes, but I don’t think we will ever replicate the worldwide excitement, anticipation and sheer joy of that moment when Neil set foot on the moon. It was magical, but it was also real.
Update 8/26/2012: Eugene Cernan Remembers Neil Armstrong
(This is a truly great radio interview about the first man on the moon by the last man on the moon.)
Neil Armstrong on the Surface of the Moon
— NASA 40th anniversary photo
1.6 Million “Earthlings” Bid Farewell on Twitter…
RIP, Mr. Armstrong, and thank you so much for the memories of a lifetime. You really were a hero. Prayers going up for your family.