16 December 2012

A nice little tour of the space station

Phil Plait posted the video below at his blog Bad Astronomy today, and I quite enjoyed it. It's not overly technical but also not too vague or over-glossing. It manages to strike a nice balance that provides an interesting overview of life on the station. I found the whole thing quite charming.

Plait mentions expecting to only watch a couple minutes of it, and similarly I almost didn't watch it at all. I spent countless hours as a child poring over illustrations of spacecraft and space stations, and so my first thought was that it would be nothing new, so why bother with it? But as soon as I started watching I was glad for it. It turns out it's actually been quite a while since I considered the simple wonder of being in space. Lately my thoughts toward space exploration have been centered on putting people back on the Moon, with Mars following soon after, and anything short of that seeming like a waste. But this video brought back a reverence for any sort of space travel that I'd forgotten. My dreams of being an astronaut are far behind me, but watching this video brought back some childhood fascination—trying to imagine weightlessness while hanging upside-down from the jungle gym and all that. I still wish we were making better progress toward the Moon and Mars, but seeing the size and details of the station and watching the presenter flit about in microgravity put an old sort of smile back on my face.

While watching the Geminid meteor shower the other night I related a similar account of renewed appreciation to my viewing buddy. I told her how for a while I came to disregard the night sky due to its inherent humanocentrism. The constellations are hugely arbitrary, and from any other vantage point outside our planet's orbit would be unrecognizable, owing to their distribution through three-dimensional space. And by my thinking, why focus on a happenstance arrangement of local dots when there are such grander concepts pervading space? There are billions and billions of entire galaxies out there, and while our stars do little but twinkle, elsewhere there's cosmic drama as stars are being born and dying violent deaths. But in the past couple years I've come back around to appreciate the naked eye's view from Earth. I still can't be bothered to commit all the constellations to memory, but I'm once again awe-struck when I look up on a clear night. First by the pure beauty of it, and also by the ponderings of the immense scales of distance and time involved that captivated me as a child. And instead of resenting the arbitrary nature of our point-of-view, I've come to embrace it a bit. You can probably blame Sagan for my newfound regard for our unique position in the universe, and if you haven't seen it already (or even if you have) I wholeheartedly recommend the video of Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" remarks found on the "Wisdom" tab on this blog. :)

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