Alternative Advent Calendar – December 24, 2017
When you wish upon…the International Space Station
Hmm – not quite the same ring as the version sung by Louis Armstrong! But I guess the International Space Station (ISS) could now be considered a ‘heavenly body’. At this time of year, thoughts often turn to the heavenly body that was the ‘Bethlehem Star’. Astronomers puzzle over what this mysterious star could have been. A comet? The birth of a new star? Jupiter and Neptune lining up? (There is an interesting BBC article here about the some of the theories put forward over the centuries.) Just as the Bethlehem Star was supposed to have carried a celestial message, I believe the ISS has a strong message too
I became fascinated by the starry appearance of the International Space Station a couple of years ago when we were having a Christmas Eve family gathering. Over lunch, someone commented that the ISS would be passing overhead and that people were telling their children it was Father Christmas on his travels. At the allotted time, fourteen of us – all adults – spilled out onto the patio, shivering and giggling and cheered when we saw the bright and steady light from one of the wonders of human achievement move across the sky, pass behind the trees then disappear from sight. As I looked at all those faces peering skywards, I had one of those moments of deep contentment that comes from a sense of being playful and of being together with the people who mean most to you.
Fast forward a couple of years and I am now a bit of an ISS geek and have an email alert that tells me when the station is passing over. I can often be found on the patio, pre-dawn, under a blanket waiting for ‘my star’. Each time I see the ISS reflecting the sunlight I wonder at the amazing capacity humans have for curiosity and exploration. I believe that the ISS stands as testament to our desire to look beyond ourselves, to push our boundaries ever outwards and to use our creativity to take us to new and far horizons.
As Peggy Whitson, the ISS commander who has clocked up more cumulative hours on the station than any other American said in a ‘letter to her 9-year-old self’:
“Who said you can’t?”
And that, my lovely friends, wherever you are in the world, whichever part of the sky is your patch, is the message I will send out to you and yours on this Christmas Eve.
Wishing you all a wonderful festive break. I hope it is a time for you all to rest and re-gather, to create and to look skywards and dream.
(If you want to see if the ISS will be passing over your house tonight or any other night, you can sign up for alerts here.)