Looking for light within darkness

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, October 14, 2017

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Spotting the Station

SPOTTING THE STATION – This graphic illustrates how to know where to look when given the degrees and direction of the appearance and disappearance of the space station. Courtesy of spotthestation.nasa.gov

According to the novel Crime and Punishment, what separates humans from other animals is our ability to talk nonsense. There are a lot of things that people have put forth as the separation point between us and other animals. I personally think you can look to the space program for the answer to this. Of all the other animals that live or have lived on the Earth, we’re the only ones developing an exit strategy.

I have always loved space. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was 12. That desire fell away with the onset of puberty, but I still think space is really cool.

Joy Carrico

Lately, I’ve been going through a phase of watching the International Space Station (ISS) cross the sky when I can. This involves knowing when and where to look and what to look for, all of which can be found at spotthestation.nasa.gov.

When I ran out in my socks at about 6 one morning to watch the space station cross overhead, I was surprised by how much hope the experience gave me. As I just said, I think space stuff is really neat and I knew I’d like watching it, but I didn’t know it would give me such a sense of hope.

Why hope?

I don’t know, but I don’t think I’m alone.

The first space station was called “Mir,” which, in Russian means two things. It’s the word for Earth, and it also means peace. The ISS itself has many compartments and each has a name. Among the names are Zarya (Russian for dawn); Unity (English for unity); Destiny; Harmony; Tranquility; and Kibo (Japanese for hope). There it is: hope.

Not everything that is named on the ISS is so optimistic. Russians have a tendency to name things in a very utilitarian way.

I remember the local grocer near us in Moscow was called Gastronomy. So there’s a future module that will be named Nauka (science). But the prevalent use of these positive words means something, I think.

People look up to the stars and they see hope. Perhaps we envision a future that is better than our present. And when we set our sights on a brighter future, we can create a better present. Space provides us with a blank slate on which to write our futures. The Earth does not provide such a pristine setting for our dreams, too much is already written there.

Isn’t it ironic that this source of hope started as a manifestation of the Cold War, with the USSR and the USA trying to beat each other to each new innovation. But it has since turned – at least this part of it – into a multi-national cooperation for the sake of advancement. No matter what’s transpiring down here on Earth, the astronauts, cosmonauts, Europe-onauts and Japan-onauts are working together and living together in a space station the size of a six-bedroom house, conducting experiments and seeking to further the understanding of humanity beyond its current scope.

Perhaps it’s not our exit strategy that separates us from other animals, but our ability to find hope in our existence. It’s a nice thought.


The space station is, at certain times, visible to the naked eye. It looks like a star traveling across the sky really quickly. It can be mistaken for an airplane, but it’s brighter, faster, doesn’t have any flashing lights and doesn’t change direction. When you see it, what you see is actually the station itself reflecting the light of the Sun. It can only be seen at dawn or dusk due to the contrast in light levels needed to see it. Unlike the Moon, which is also reflecting the Sun’s light, it cannot be seen in full daylight.

The space station is about 240 miles above the Earth, it orbits every 90 minutes, which is 16 sunrises and sunsets per day. It travels at 17,500 mph, which is 29 times faster than a jet airplane.

When it is visible and how often it is visible at any given location is a matter of timing. The space station has be be traveling overhead while it’s dark enough to see it. That can happen multiple times in a matter of days or you can wait a month to have the opportunity to view it.

There are a couple of good chances to spot the station in the next few days:

  • On Saturday, Oct. 14, the station will be visible for four minutes starting at 8:02 p.m. It will begin 11 degrees above NNW and end 34 degrees above ENE. It’s maximum height will be 40 degrees.
  • On Monday, Oct. 16, the station will be visible for six minutes starting at 7:54 p.m. It will begin 10 degrees above NW and end 15 degrees above SE. It’s maximum height will be 65 degrees.

For information on how to understand where to look, visit spotthestation.nasa.gov. They go into great detail on the subject.

I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities to lift your gaze spaceward and see what a six-bedroom house traveling at 17,500 mph does for you. You never know when or where hope will spring up.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist.

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