Over the last couple of weeks, on nights when the sky was clear, I have been running outside to watch the International Space Station go over Garrard County.
I realize that a lot of folks believe I have way too much time on my hands. On the other hand, I’m wondering how many of you have actually seen the station fly by? I have not seen any raging controversies about it on Facebook so I’m assuming it has mostly gone unnoticed.
Had they actually seen it, there are Facebook users out there who would be clamoring that it was a plot to defeat their favorite politician while others claimed it was prophesized in The Book of Revelation and a sure sign that the end of time is nearer than we thought. That does not mean that The Good Book actually made such a prophecy, just that someone said it did and a dozen other people shared the post.
The space station sighting may well be old news to you but I’m just now catching on. I’d actually seen it, happenstance, several times before figuring out what it was. I tend to sit on the porch and burn my last nightly bowl of Captain Black sometime between dark and the nightly news, during which, I’d seen something, brighter than the brightest star, traveling at pretty good clip, across the nighttime sky. I figured it to be a much larger satellite than the regular ones you can usually see if you look hard enough.
You can spend several hours reading about the space station but we don’t have space here to do a description justice. Suffice to say that it covers an area a bit larger than a football field and its living quarters are about the size of a six bedroom, two story house complete with a kitchen, gym, laboratories, bathrooms, etc. The living/working space is surrounded by an array of solar panels. The station orbits earth 16 times a day and it is about 250 miles above us.
As many as 13 people have lived in it at the same time since 2000 but the average crew is six astronauts at a time. As of this writing, 240 people have spent time at the station. It is jointly owned through an international treaty made possible by the governments of The United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and European Space Administration. The recent commercial Space X launch from Cape Canaveral, carrying two NASA astronauts, was the first time in ten years that American (NASA) astronauts had traveled from our country to the station. Several previous flights had been made from our Space Shuttle Program, but, since 2010 our astronauts had been hitching rides from the other participating countries.
That’s what piqued my interest in trying to find out what these new guys where were going once they got up there. If you already know all this stuff, please know that I am not intentionally trying to bore you. I simply find it fascinating and it has been a slow news week on Charlie Brown Road.
If you want to view the space station from your back yard, Google “NASA spot the station” and click on the link. It took me less than a minute to figure out the exact time of night I could see it and the exact compass coordinates from which it would pass over Paint Lick. You should be able to click on a city within 10 miles of where you live and quickly find all the information you will need to spot it for yourself.
Just a few minutes before or after 10 p.m. have been optimal viewing times for me but the exact time is going to vary, based on your location. Other than the moon, it will be the brightest object in the night sky and it may take anywhere from a couple and up to just over 6 minutes to cross the sky. The website will tell you exactly what to expect.
In the meantime, if you see a Facebook post from someone claiming that they have watched Chinese people tossing COVID-19 contaminated face masks out the space station windows, I wouldn’t put a lot of credence in it, if I were you.