Space Nerd

If the links to the right haven’t tipped you off, in addition to being a music geek, I am also a space nerd. As a child, all I wanted to be when I grew up was an astronaut. Or a rock star. Or a rock star astronaut. That’s why I went to the Naval Academy. Unfortunately, I then wrecked my shoulder and discovered my eyes weren’t good enough to fly jets, much less spacecraft. (This was back in the days before LASIX was offered gratis to anyone who wanted it at the service academies . . . if you were near-sighted then, you weren’t gonna be flying. Period).

One of my favorite websites is Heavens Above, which allows you to figure out which of the lights crossing the sky above you aren’t airplanes, stars or planets. We spend a lot of time out in our backyard at night, stewing in the hot tub, and I love spotting man-made satellites, then coming inside to figure out what we saw. Iridium flares are especially fun. But the grandest of man-made spectacles in the night sky is clearly the International Space Station (ISS), which becomes all the more spectacular when a Space Shuttle is docked, as has been the case for most of the past two weeks.

Two nights ago, we had one of the best combo Shuttle-ISS viewings I’ve ever seen, peaking at nearly 90 degrees directly above Latham, with a magnitude in the -1.5 range. Bright! Fast! Clearly a large, complex, square-looking object when viewed through binoculars! (What you actually see is sunlight reflecting back off the solar panels). Then tonight, it got even better: Space Shuttle Atlantis and ISS have undocked, and between 9:19 and 9:24 tonight, we all went out back and watched the ISS trail the descending Shuttle across the still cobalt-blue early night sky. Awe-inspiring, I tell you!

And it gets even better for me, because on the Atlantis, astronaut Sunita Pandya Williams rides on her way back to Earth after breaking all sorts of endurance and spacewalk records, not to mention running a simulated Boston Marathon in zero g’s. She is a member of the Naval Academy’s class of ’87, one year behind me. I went there to become an astronaut and didn’t, but I’m damned proud of any of my colleagues who did, her included. Brava!

I look forward to watching her safe landing tomorrow afternoon. That will be the most awesome part of the package of all.

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