After having seen just the International Space Station along with the ISS and the space shuttle docked to it, I had yet to see the ISS trailed by any of the three remaining space shuttles. After 6 unsuccessful attempts either due to weather or personal situations, I was getting worried I’d never get to see it, and for mission STS-129, my first information told me the next ISS pass was after space shuttle Atlantis landed.
Talk about disappointment! I thought I’d never get to see it with only 5 shuttle flights left. Then, a true miracle. On this Thanksgiving in the United States, I must say I am thankful for Twitter and luck. While bored out of my mind at a family get-together, I went onto Twitter on my iPod Touch, and saw a mention from @twisst, which notifies a person when the ISS will be near, and it said 5:05pm EST. I nearly threw my iPod in the air out of excitement. I might get to see them pass!
As it became 5:00, I gathered a few of my family members who were interested in seeing the two spacecraft pass overhead. I open the door, and my jaw drops. No, I didn’t see the ISS or Atlantis, but I did see lots of clouds. Getting worried, I got off the porch and into the driveway, where there was a slight break in the clouds…right where the two spacecraft were supposed to be.
I looked up, nearly in pain, and saw it was 5:07. I started to turn to go inside, and sure enough, I misread the information and was looking at the wrong part of the sky (and apparently my watch is fast) and out of the clearing in the clouds, a beautiful white streak that I have seen in the past crossed the sky. Suddenly, looking exactly where the ISS came from, 10 seconds later, a second dot appeared, and unbelievably, I was seeing both the ISS and Atlantis separated and trailing each other.
As we called out more members of our family, I started to describe to everyone that there were astronauts living aboard the ISS and returning home tomorrow on the space shuttle. While describing, I continued to look up. I thought to myself that it looked like a magnificent ballet that was going on, which was well choreographed as the two bright, shining dots danced gracefully across the sky and behind the clouds following right behind each other, many of us unaware that this dance is really 250 miles over our heads traveling at 17,500 miles per hour.
As the two disappeared in the night sky, some of the famiy went back inside. Yet, surprisingly, many people stayed outside and continued to talk to me about amazing it was that they saw exactly what they did. Sure enough, every single one of my 15 relatives outside never knew you could see either of the craft with your own naked eye. A few were probably ashamed to admit they had no idea what the International Space Station was. Two family members even commented that had I not pointed it out, they would’ve just taken them to be two airplanes awfully close together and not blinking.
Regardless of their prior knowledge, there was plenty of interest in what was going on, and once they saw it for the first time, they became hooked, and a thirst for more knowledge came upon them, asking me tons of questions. Probably the best part is that these family members were mixed in ages. Some hadn’t even left elementary school yet, while others were already retired, and yet every single one of them were amazed, and it turned them all into little kids in a candy store as they became interested in what was going on.
So, I write this for two main reasons. One because I was just struck by the amazing beauty of the two spacecraft floating across the sky together. The second and probably most important reason is that this story shows that people are really interested in what’s going on in space, whether they know it or not. It just has to be brought to their attention. So, the moral of this story is that if we want people to support our space program and maintain an interest in space like there was back during the Cold War era, then all we need to do as a community is to get people to look up and show them what is up there and maybe that little glimmer can spark an interest in all generations, just as it did to all of us who are members of this society.