Expedition 56 team members from the Soyuz spacecraft photographed ISS after the line. Photo: Reuters
Every time it goes through and I'm watching there, several passers-by are interested in my pointing finger. "Look," I tell them. "You see that the light object moves?" Many people are missing and glance, often a miracle and a joy.
However, there are others who refuse to search. A face embedded in ridiculous masks, without a second glance to me, they turn back in the past and rest on the walk. Somehow they are convinced that seeing something in the sky is dangerous either to their health or their psyche or both. "It's the International Space Station (ISS)!" I will say that they will go. "We often do not see it as such!" I can also talk with octopus, because I have all my effect on him lagging behind me. I know that they have their views, but because of neoliberalism, all-irrationalism, given the mold of human joy coming to it, constantly leaves me just a little sad.
But not for a long time. Because others are more than shaped. We will stand together, turning our heads back on track, watching for a few minutes the brightest object, not the moon's race in the night sky. Of course, this is just a shining white point, but these moments are filled with an almost inexplicable passion, a strangely exciting feeling that in some way is connected with fearless astronauts on this spacecraft, somehow part of this most striking human endeavor.
"Hey, did you see Sunita Williams pulling?" I will ask and "yes, well!" Looks like I'm the same as icing up.
ISS that runs across the Milky Way in Wales, UK. Photo: Alamy
Every week NASA announces me Expected close encounters with the space station. This factoid can never impress my colleagues when I say to them: "You work on NASA, Wow!" – but it sounds infinitely more important than what really is (no, I'm not working on NASA). Everyone in the world can sign up for these alerts in a matter of seconds and you can receive them by email or SMS. This is how I know when to go to search for it.
The NASA statement appears when the flight over the next 24 hours will take place with the ISS (properly referred to as the "transition" that usually makes me smile) in the next 24 hours, but only if it happens at dusk or at dawn. Why only in these times? After all, the ISS will stop the planet all the time, closing the orbit every 90 minutes. I think I wrote these words on 1 afternoon, and I know from the direct map of my trip that the station got nearly five hours less than an hour ago. Why did not NASA worry about this overflight? Why would not I have seen the ISS, even if I just looked at this moment?
Well: during the day, is it right that when a space station floats over a part of the planet that has dried up in the sun, the sun itself is so bright that it looks for something else in the sky that can radiate or reflect light. When the ISS floats in the dark, the sun is on the other side of the planet and the station is too close to the earth's surface to reach the sun. So at moments when the angle is right, we can see the ISS by using the sunlight that is reflected in us, as if using a huge mirror. If you've signed up for ISS alerts, NASA will check if the ISS will fly above your ground on this earthly dusk or dawn. If so, you will receive the following message:
Station station Time: Wed Apr 19, 20:05, Visible: 3 mins, Max. Height: 41 °, It is displayed: 30 ° above W, It disappears: 22 ° above S
Here is the thing. I'm receiving this statement and I'm walking a few minutes before 8.05 westward. Totally 8.05pm-no 8.04, no 8.06-bright point appears right from this direction. Unlike almost anything in the sky, it moves, of course, moving faster than anything in the sky other than the airplane. It gets a little brighter as it gets higher in the sky. Just after 3 minutes after it has appeared, it's gone.
US astronaut Scott Kelly inside ISS dome. Photo: Reuters / NASA
That's what it was, every time I went out to see the ISS.
Accuracy is impressive, significant. And yet, it would almost not be a surprise. Even if the ISS drives the earth's surface in a fast clip, we know exactly where it is at any time. There are sites that track its motion in real time. We know that its path changes with each orbit, and you can see what's happening on these tracking sites. You will find out that it goes up 27,500 km / h, about 400 km above us. You can find out about the closest observations in your location. In my case, the next is November 15, when the time, direction and height are precisely indicated, because I know that it will be an e-mail that will arrive on November 14th. Stacked cameras are even nutritious, so you can find out how our planet looks up (hint: just gorgeous).
Yes, the accuracy is impressive. But if you think about it, that's just how it should be done. Without that precision, space exploration would not be possible. For an understanding of what I mean by this, consider just one example.
ISS over London. Photo: Alamy
As you undoubtedly know, we have shipped spacecraft to Mars; India itself Mangaljana has been planning on orbiting for more than four years. How did we manage this feat, given that Mars is on average about 220 million miles from the earth? Suppose we turned to Mars for one bleaching evening imagining a straight line connecting the planets and sending Mangaljana Shoot on Mars as you shoot the gun at the target. What would happen if you had even a tiny fraction of your target – one thousandth of a degree, let's say? With a typical weapon and its purpose, such an error would not matter at all. Your bullet would still be bullshit. But with a definite red planet, which is 220 million kilometers away, you will reach almost 4,000 kilometers. That is, with such an error Mangaljana will fly over Mars and reach the wide, empty spaces outside. Let's face it: we can not afford such a mistake.
In fact, of course, this is nothing like sending us spacecraft to Mars or anywhere else. Because the two planets are moving, because we have to take into account and actually use their respective gravity fields, because we also need to use those seasons when Mars and land are approaching more than 220 million miles because of the host from other factors, saying the road Mangaljana to reach Mars, reminds a straight line, is like saying that my tennis game resembles Roger Federer (the tip is not). After it's started Mangaljana created a number of ever-increasing elliptical orbits around the earth, the latter of which was essentially the result of a long trajectory, where it is now – around Mars. Right? Not in your life.
And yet this sophisticated road itself reflects the same idea of accuracy in space travel. Think about the calculations you need to take into account the severity. Or get it Mangaljana flying the land, but each time expanding. Or to get to Mars's orbit. Get something out of it even a little wrong, and the ship will go back to earth, or it will go away in space or even explode.
Partly deeply, that's all the reason why I registered for those NASA ISS alerts. So I go to the station, most of the time I hear that it will be visible. That's why it never plays me when it seems. Therefore, I call on others around me to look for this shining point as it accelerates past overheads.
Swirls in the sea near Mumbai, captured by retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Photo: Twitter / @Cmdr_Hadfield
Because it is much more than just a vivid moving point, beautiful, because it's visible.
The way I see it: here in the land, we have our inconveniences and deadly disputes and silly rivers and sleeping leaders and useless monuments, and often it all lowers me, because I'm sure it saved you. But then you can look and admire this point, which is a symbol of the best features of our species. Everything about the ISS – from the precision of its path to its form – from what it seeks to achieve the inner courage of people – is talking about the science of miracles and the generous passage of mankind.
Since the International Space Station has completed its 20-year orbit, it must be considered.
Do you want to register for alerts? Go to http://spotthestation.nasa.gov