Thursday, November 10, 2011

About a speck

I was doing some gardening earlier this evening, admiring the full moon and Jupiter in the Eastern sky when I noticed a bright speck moving in from the North. The speck was moving quite fast, headed right for Jupiter, and from my vantage point passed less than a finger's breadth from the big guy. I continued to track the speck until it disappeared behind a stand of trees - my Stellarium tells me that if I'd had a clear horizon, I'd have been able to see the speck until it set further South. What's so special about this speck, one may ask. What's so different about it compared to all the other specks in the sky, both those that are relatively stationary from our perception and others like it that move perceptibly. Well, the special thing about that speck is that it had people on it.

The speck was the International Space Station, hurtling four hundred kilometers above the Earth, carrying a crew of American, Russian and Japanese astronauts. It's been all of humanity's shot at having a permanent space presence for over 11 years now. I used to get out and take a look at the Station whenever I could but haven't done so in a long time, so that, coupled with the chance alignment with Jupiter, made this time particularly poignant for me. To think that there are human beings "up there", doing research and looking down upon the curve of the Earth, is a magnificent thought. It boggles the mind to think that there are people living, breathing and working on that little speck. And yet we know that if you go out far enough, even the Earth itself, the hub of all human activity, where we work, share, love and live out our entire existence, looks like a bright speck.

My favorite picture of that speck. Saturn always makes everything more beautiful.

It is my fervent hope that even if I may not be able to view Earth from such a position, one day my descendents will, and they will remember the intrepid men and women who pioneered it all, even though they only went but a stone's throw from their planet.

I'll leave you with the immortal words of Carl Sagan (who would have been 77 yesterday):

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