I’m having to take a short break as I’ve been nailed by Covid, no doubt caught whilst cramming onto trains heading into metropolis.
However, this week I’ve embedded a short audio recording from an interview I did with astronaut Story Musgrave some years ago. Story is the only astronaut to have flown on all five Space Shuttles, and was involved in the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission.
Listening to this never gets old. I’ve edited out my questions (in part because I sound like an excited schoolboy) so you can just listen to Story describe what is actually Visible From Space.
I’ll be back in a few weeks, sending much love from sub-zero England in the meantime,
“Hey, it’s Story. I’ll just get the baby off my back and I’ll be ready to go.
So, um, Earth is the strongest experience of Spaceflight. It’s stronger than anything else you do. For me it’s the strongest experience, Earth.
I could spend forever in the window, you know, watching the Earth go by. But the Earth has geography, the Earth has coral reefs, there’s sand dunes, there’s mountains and oceans and eddy currents in the oceans and… so it’s no question, it’s more powerful than the zero-gravity, it’s more powerful than looking out to the heavens.
Well, there’s no doubt, you know it strengthens the idea of a global community. I don’t know whether I got that from Spaceflight or, I guess it had to have strengthened those ideas of a global community - that we have been unable to form over the millennia, you know, humans have not desired to establish a global community, they have much preferred to live amongst their own tribes or nationalities, but I guess that Spaceflight kind of accentuated the idea of a global community.
You have about fifty minutes of daylight, and about thirty-five of night, since the sun is up and down every hour and a half. But you choose whether you want it to be night or just to be dark. It’s a strange concept isn’t it… and so, you’re up and working and the fact that it’s dark doesn’t matter and all the spaceship is lit up, but the best experience I’ve ever had is to turn all the lights off and put the computer lids down and to have a night experience of Earth - that’s as good as it gets.
Yeah you can see, you can see city lights, you can see the pattern, if you’re high enough up like the Hubble mission you can see the whole United States, but the Hubble mission which was around 370 statute miles you can see our entire continent clearly from there. So at night you can see the whole entire United States, really. And you can recognise clearly the pattern, you know, New Orleans up there, and St Louis and Kansas City, and Miami, and Washington all the way to Boston is almost solid light but you can pick out the intensities, you know. And so, Los Angeles and San Francisco and then on to Las Vegas which until recently was the brightest. And the way the stars play with the city lights, well it’s almost the horizon is not that distinct so you’re not always clear are you looking at stars or looking at cities, it’s kinda, it’s not clear if you’re looking at stars or if you’re looking at city lights.
When I do a night pass and do all the views I mentioned then, by golly, I am at night. The moon comes at you 18,000 miles an hour as a reflection of the moon, 25,000 feet per second, ‘cause it’ll race across the ocean or if you’re over land it lights the river only in a very distinct place, it’s racing at you at 18,000 miles an hour, the river is, you see - cause the only part of the river you see is the reflection of the moonlight.
The meteorites coming in, the shooting stars they’re called, I’ve seen five or six of them simultaneously - that’s kind of thrilling, you’re glad you saw them, it means they didn’t hit you on the way in, and so you’re looking at the world, you’re looking at the star-field and you have these cosmic rays that are causing streaks, so that’s pretty spectacular. And then you have the meteoroids coming in, so you get the play between the meteoroids entering the atmosphere and the cosmic rays in your eyeball, and the moon racing across the thing, you see, and you may look off and see the aurora going on at the same time as you’re seeing the stars and the city lights going by, now you see the aurora dancing pink and green, and it moves like mist coming off a morning pond.
And then, if you’re lucky, you’ve evoked a free-fall sensation, so you’re falling but you’re not falling towards anything, so you’re in the window and you’re falling. Day and night changes, you know, and in an hour and a half you’ll experience a whole day and a whole night, about an hour and a half you’ll experience the whole thing in terms of Winter and Summer. I do look for the changing of the leaves out there.
You see lots of hurricanes, I’ve seen ten hurricanes in one mission. I’ve seen a huge number of hurricanes from space.
I’m sure my sense of evolution, my sense of cosmic evolution has, there’s no question that that has been intensified by space-flight and by what the Hubble does; Star-birth and Star-death and a thousand galaxies. There is no such things as dark sky, wherever you aim the telescope there’s another thousand galaxies you look at, you can’t aim the Hubble anywhere except there’s another thousand galaxies, there is no dark sky anywhere.
You are part of this great big process which is going on.
Yeah, just part of the game…”
Thank you for expanding our perspective even while you're not feeling well. "There is no such thing as dark sky"- Wow, what an extraordinary observation!
Reminds me of the time I met Sunni Williams in the parking lot of Space X. I was star struck and all I could say (also like a giddy school girl) was "You're a real live astronaut " over and over again. She was gracious and kind. I asked her about a memorable experience and she told me that she brought a book, 'The Bhavagad Gita', to read as a connection to her Indian culture, but once in space, she took the book out, looked around and said to herself "What am I doing? I can read when I am on Earth!" And she put the book away.
Can you imagine?!
"I can read when I am on Earth!!!!!"