Confessions of a Space Geek

As long as I can remember, I have been a space geek. I was the kid in elementary school who the teachers asked about space travel.

I was six when Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth. Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, even Scott Carpenter were household names for me. I stayed up late one Sunday night when Neil Armstrong made his one small step. I would have stayed up till Monday morning at oh dark thirty to watch those crude televised images. (You would think NASA could have sprung for a color camera…)

A little of me died when the Challenger blew up and the Columbia crashed.

So naturally, I watched with great interest the National Geographic Channel’s Live from Space, which aired last night. The 2 hour live program followed the International Space Station through slightly more than an orbit, 250 miles high.

The host of the program, Soledad O’Brien, had the good sense to let the astronauts do the talking. And let the visuals speak for themselves. The geek in me thrills when I see human beings floating in space. The program demonstrated what a unique environment the ISS is. The walls are chock full of instruments and computers and experiment packages.

The crew members, both on orbit and on Earth, talked repeatedly about what fun zero gravity is. They occasionally performed somersaults, effortlessly.

One small thing I noticed–the microphone. A commonplace item in showbiz, but in sero g, an amazing thing. Psssing the mike on earth is a bit like running a relay, but in space, you simply let go of it, do something spacey like opening a freezer, and then grab it back. If you did that on Earth, the mike would be on the floor. (I have read that when space travelers return to Earth, they find it hard to undo this process; one poor fellow “parked” his grocery bag in midair while shopping.)

But, fittingly, the real star of the show was the Earth, gliding patiently outside the windows. Here all the spacetalk cliches (fantastic, phenomenal, awesome) fail us. We are left with wonder. ( I wonder if the astronauts get so close to the window that they leave a nose smudge, as children do. Probably not–it’s an undisciplined thing to do, and astronauts are disciplined.)