The other night my wife and I enjoyed watching the International Space Station pass over. It appeared like a brilliant star, moving across the sky, finally fading away in the Earth's shadow. Despite being brought up the Space Age, I still find it exciting to consider there goes an actual spaceship, with astronauts inside.

The other night my wife and I enjoyed watching the International Space Station pass over. It appeared like a brilliant star, moving across the sky, finally fading away in the Earth's shadow.


Despite being brought up the Space Age, I still find it exciting to consider there goes an actual spaceship, with astronauts inside. I suppose the wonder of those old space TV shows and movies never quite goes away. Science fiction certainly has been ahead of its time on many occasions, and in some ways has helped inspire youth to dream big and reach for the stars.


Those stars can be quite literal, or be a metaphor for any goal that seems beyond our grasp. Determined, we refuse to let obstacles be permanent, and we keep hope alive.


Retirement of the U.S. space shuttle program without a replacement vehicle is hard to accept. Relying on the Russians for now to provide an orbital taxi service, there is already concern over a crash of their rocket that was ferrying supplies by remote control. Perhaps the gap won’t be so long before private U.S. companies develop a reliable spacecraft, or this nation is ready to proceed with the next-generation vehicle.


NASA is working on a capsule called Orion, which was originally intended for the scrapped mission to return manned flights to the moon.


Meanwhile we are amazed at the wonder of scientific discovery and beautiful pictures returned by NASA’s robotic probes. We have several unmanned  observatories in orbit, and operating missions to Mercury, Mars, Jupiter (en route), Saturn, Pluto (en route), as well as a probe now in orbit around the asteroid Vesta. We only hope there is sufficient appreciation of these projects by the public, that will reach our young generation.


A recent book fair at the Wallenpaupack North Primary School had a space theme.


Teachers were dressed as space aliens or astronauts, and the classrooms and hallways were decorated to make you think of space. Yet the little children can only be told of the times we once walked the moon. Anyone in the 40s and older can remember the days of Apollo, and many were inspired.


Meanwhile, it is forever a wonder that to enjoy a ride through space, we don’t need ANY of the above. The basic inspiration has always been here, every time we take time to step outside and look up. You don’t even need to go out. Look through a window at night facing the open sky, with the lights off. The starry sky is before us, as we ride this great spaceship called Earth. As our craft keeps spinning at nearly 1,000 miles an hour (at the equator), we hurtle onward at around 43,000 miles an hour around the sun. Our direction is the constellation Lyra, the Harp. Our sun takes us and the rest of the planets on its own journey around and around our galaxy. Positioned some 26,000 light years from the galaxy’s center, and our nearest stellar neighbor over four light years away (that’s over 25 thousand billion miles), we glide along at about 155 miles per second. We are quite assured, at this rate we will go all the way around in 200 million years or so and be back here, without ever bumping into another star. Note: In all of humankind’s recorded history, our sun has barely moved at all in this vast orbit. No wonder the constellations seem so static.


Then this fantastic galaxy which fills our sky with stars and nebulous clouds of dust and gas, spirals around and around as it takes us on its own trek through the universe, joined by neighbor galaxies in what we lovingly call the “Local Group,” bound by gravity and with the single purpose to move ahead. No obstacle too great and without any need for human motivation or Congressional funding, our own celestial ship keeps its course sure and true.


So much for being lazy. Not one of us ever “just sits around” in the big picture.


Unfortunately, our cosmic ride is yet to burn away any calories.


The view from the Space Station must be great. Yet we have our own view - given clouds cooperating and to the extent we can fend off light pollution - right from our earthly starship observation deck we call home.


New moon is on Oct. 26.


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Keep looking up!


*****


To find out when you can see the Space Station, go to www.jsc.nasa.gov/sightings.