We saw the International Space Station passing overhead last night completely by accident!! We were locking up to go to bed at around 2305 when I decided I wanted to stand on the bridge for a lungful of night air and honeysuckle scent. I stood out there, looked up and noticed it was a clear night so looked at the stars. I noticed a very bright light heading over from just to the right of our shed but thought it was a plane. The Husband then joined me, I said it was a clear night and, pointing to a slightly reddish star was asking him if he thought that was Mars and blathering on about how extraordinary it was that, even though it was so far away, you could still see that it's a very faint orange colour. He looked up and said, "What's that? That's not a plane...." I looked again and noticed that the light wasn't flashing (planes have a light on each wing tip, one red one green, that flash), plus the colour of the light was different. It was just....different. It was incredibly bright, brighter than any plane or star and definitely not a meteorite. We watched it pass over and head towards Godalming where it just faded out. Took about 30 seconds to pass over. The Husband suggested it might have been a satellite or possibly the shuttle heading back from its Hubble mission. I rather hoped it was a UFO.
This morning we got up and found this website - www.heavens-above.com - where if you plug in your longitude and latitude co-ordinates (you can get these off Google Earth) you can get predictions on when various manmade celestial objects will be passing overhead. The Husband did this and found that, at 2307 last night, the International Space Station was due to head over us and just by sheer luck we managed to be there to see it. But, even better, it's due to pass over us again tonight at 2157 & 33 secs and apparently is going to be even brighter than last night's! Fingers crossed for a clear night sky, eh?
Pondering the ISS got me thinking about how we are actually living in the future but don't really realise it. Although eight years late, and not really quite there yet, Stanley Kubrick's vision of people living on a space station in 2001 - which looked impossibly futuristic, yet also completely plausible back in 1968 - is truly with us.
We have lived to see this in our time. That bright point of light that travelled across the heavens last night is currently home to three humans, from Russia, America and Japan. 64 years ago no-one would have believed those three nations would have representatives sitting in a tin can, far above the world, as they'd only just finished bombing the shit out of each other. It was fantastical, impossible, a science-fiction dream. Yet, today, we don't give it another thought.
The Hubble Telescope is currently being fixed - five spacewalks have occurred over the last 11 days by crew from the space shuttle. There are people floating around, only attached to the shuttle by a mechanical arm, solving everyday ordinary engineering problems, IN SPACE!
The Hubble Telescope is an extraordinary thing, it enables us to time travel by looking into the past. It sends us pictures like this:
In 1968, communication devices where you could actually see the person you were talking to were astonishing, unbelievable - now we use them everyday via webcams and mobile phones without giving them a second thought.
And what about digital cameras? - no more need for bulky films, instant pictures! It's the future!
And MP3 players - I got an iPod like everyone else and not just for convenience. I think this was the first gizmo to make me realise I was living in the future. I don't pretend to understand how a small thin metal box can store thousands and thousands of hours of music, but it reminded me of how the music of the Krells was stored in 'Forbidden Planet', it was science-fictiony and, damn, I wanted one.
We take all this stuff for granted. Because it's here, now, and we use it all the time, familiarity has definitely bred contempt. We've forgotten how far we've come in the last 100 years. One day I will ask The Husband's father what has impressed him the most about the last century - he was born in 1914 when there were few cars, little electricity and a handful of planes. He's seen it all - both World Wars, the atomic bomb, space travel. He himself uses the internet.
But I can't help wondering will I - by the time I get to his age - have got my flying car yet?
(Retropolis pictures from here - the future that never was)