On Memorial Day, Bill was watching the Stanley Cup finals when he saw a local news alert that the International Space Station would be visible in the northeast sky between 10:50 and 10:55 p.m. As much as I’ve loved space and astronomy my whole life, I was wide awake with excitement and ready to have my close encounter. We ventured outside and had an easy time orienting ourselves to the northeast – Route 116 runs south from town to Amherst, so northeast roughly points toward Mount Sugarloaf, which we can see from our parking lot. After mistaking a star for the ISS, our eyes acclimated to the darkness and suddenly Bill said “there it is, that has to be it.” I looked where he pointed and there it was, a tiny silver-blue dot that could easily have been mistaken for a plane, except it had no running lights. We only saw it for a few seconds as it passed over our apartment, and as we were out there alone, the solitude of the moment made it even more special.
I couldn’t help but think of the astronauts who had served in the military and had given their lives in pursuit of knowledge. According to the official NASA website, as of 2009, 209 astronauts had served in the armed forces, with the breakdown as follows:
Air Force- 81
Marines – 23
Coast Guard -2
The following members of our military have died in training and shuttle accidents:
Virgil “Gus” Grissom – Air Force
Ed White – Air Force
Roger Chafee – Navy
Dick Scobee – Air Force
Michael J. Smith – Navy
Ilan Ramon – Israeli Air Force
Laurel Clark – Navy
David M. Brown – Navy
Michael P. Anderson – Air Force
William C. McCool – Navy
Rick Husband – Air Force
Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. – Air Force (1st African American astronaut)
On Memorial Day, we remember not only those who died in combat, but those who served and have since passed away- I can still remember where I was during the Challenger and Columbia tragedies, and although I know they couldn’t time it, it seemed fitting that the flyover took place on a day of national remembrance. The ISS is a home in space, a fragile shell that allows us to step into the next frontier. Even had I possessed the math and science skills to be an astronaut, I never could have left my family, strapped myself to a multi-ton explosive and hurled myself into the unknown. These people are true heroes and even though my encounter was a brief one, it was one I won’t soon forget.
When I was a kid, we used to go camping a lot and would lay out under the stars. We would oftentimes see satellites traveling across the nighttime sky.