Last night I stood alone outside my apartment, gazing up at the sky, glancing occasionally at my watch. The International Space Station (docked with the Space Shuttle Discovery) was scheduled to appear above the horizon just after 7:40 PM. The unusual combination of darkness, clear sky, and near-overhead maximum elevation (86 degrees) made this a remarkable opportunity.
I shielded my eyes from the street lights, intently studying the patterns of dim stars that usually escape my notice. City life can make the distant sky unfamiliar—on a clear night I am more likely to notice a long queue of planes on approach to Logan Airport than, say, Cassiopeia. Prepared for disappointment and forgetful of which direction to start looking, I was watching for the slightest relative motion between objects when, right on time, it appeared in the west: a brilliant point of shimmering light, a hundred times brighter than the stars, streaking speedily in a wide arc across the sky. A passing band of St. Patrick’s Day revelers saw me staring open-mouthed at the sky, looked up, and fell momentarily silent.
“Holy shit, that was cool,” one of them concluded as the bright satellite flung itself effortlessly over the city, beyond the reaches of our tallest buildings, and faded slowly from view. Yes indeed.