I WON’T BE ROCKING the universe when I make a statement about travel’s profound ability to broaden horizons. (There is so much wrong with my decision to keep that kitschy sentence but there it is.) Park yourself some place new and wonderful things happen. Your view changes. Your thought patterns are interrupted. Your priorities shift.
It happens to me regularly these days as Tim and I spend pockets of time at our weekend place high in the Blue Ridge. The contrast between that rural lifestyle and the urban one we enjoy in the flatlands of South Carolina is pretty dramatic. When we are in those mountains we find ourselves considerably more focused on the land, on each sunrise, on the sheer passing of time.
But the last time we were there something new happened that I’ve thought about a good bit since. We weren’t long before bed when Tim suggested we plan to get up a little earlier than usual the next morning. The International Space Station would be crossing the sky over our house just before dawn, he said, and this would give us a great chance to see it.
Yes! I said, with so much enthusiasm you’d think I’d been waiting my whole life for just such an opportunity. (I sort of knew there was a Space Station flying around up there. Maybe? Kinda?)
Rise we did.
THE VIEWING OF THE THING was not as dramatic or impressive as you might imagine. It was a bright little white dot that appeared just where Tim said it would, lifting right out of the trees that stand over the chimney and our roof. It moved at rather a quick clip north to south finally disappearing from view over Big Butt ridge and the Black Mountain range just behind.
We observed and marveled and I questioned. Were there people aboard? (Yes.) How many? (Six.) How long have they been up there? (Varies, depending on the astronaut, but the space station has been manned continuously for 16 years.) How far away is it? (220 miles) How fast does it go? (17,227 miles per hour)
What were the astronauts doing right now? Were they looking down at us, commenting on the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains?
I also found this little tidbit particularly interesting: We could see the Space Station in the sky at this moment because it was positioned such that the sun reflected off its surface, thus making it look like a fast moving star in a dark-enough sky. Then it disappeared from our view before it actually went out of sight because it slowly disappeared into the earth’s shadow.
And just like that, in less than two minutes, the entire thing was done.
We stayed put to watch the sun rise, we surely did, then we went back inside and I immediately jumped into an online search for photos in reverse: the earth from the Space Station. There are many incredible collections, like this one. But I was most fascinated by those from Commander Randy Bresnik, a Citadel grad who posts on Instagram as @astrokomrade. He had just given us a from-Space view of Charleston, post Irma, on which he wrote: After #Irma. Charleston, I have swum in your streets before, I know you will recover quickly again to the city we all know and love.
That there is powerful stuff, my friends.
THE EXPERIENCE HAS STAYED WITH ME, I’ll also tell you that. I think about the fact that Space Station (with its people) circles the earth 16 times a day. It has done this every single day for the last 16 years. And all that time I have been right here, fully and completely not paying attention.
It’s the kind of thing a person should know, is what I think. It’s the kind of thing a person should know and celebrate and from time to time stand back from, in awe.
How happy I am my husband–and those mountains–made sure I did just that.
NOTE: If you are interested in the International Space Station, NASA has an app that will tell you when the best viewing times are for your location. Click here for more information.
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