Maps From The Stars

As you may or may not know from reading my past posts. I have a myriad of topics that captivate me.  Some are just subjects that hold my attention others can range from fascination to downright obsessions of mine.  But I especially love when two of my favorites can come together.  Recently that has been happening, thanks to a few astronauts on the International Space Station.

I have a lifelong love of the space program.  Perhaps that is because I was born just slightly over a year before the Apollo 11 moon landing.  I can still remember seeing the final moon landing broadcast on television.  I watched through Apollo-Soyuz and Skylab, into the Shuttle program and continuing through the ongoing ISS missions.

I also have a love of geography, specifically, cartography.  The study of maps.  I have sat and read an atlas the same way other people sit and read the latest Steven King novel.  I look for the detail, the proximity of cities and nations.  I pore over the relief maps to get a sense of natural boundaries and how nature influenced who we became and where we move and live.

When satellite imagery became part of all internet based map programs, I was thrilled.  I could now get a look at both maps, virtually at the same time.  I could toggle back and forth and zoom in, right down to my house if I felt so inclined.  And I have.  This is where two of my interests began to blend into one.

Recently, as I mentioned above, a few astronauts have been fostering this melding.  They have been sending out, via Twitter and other sources, photos of cities, landmarks and prominent physical features of our world down below.  I know they are not as detailed as some of the images already available, but there is something more to it.

Two of the astronauts currently staffing the ISS are an American, Shane Kimbrough and Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.  They send out photos almost on a daily basis of what they see as they orbit our world.  Big deal you say?  Well, yes, it is.  It is more than just the photo they send down to us.  It is what they tell us as well.

When I see the tweet, pop up in my feed with an image fresh from space, I immediately study it intently.  But what is great about what they say is the fact that they don’t just tell you what you are seeing.  They relate to what is in the picture.  From following and watching these pioneers, I not only get to live vicariously through them on the Space Station, I also learn a little about them.  In recent days, they have sent pictures of the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida shortly after the launch of a cargo ship on the way to them.  They congratulated the SpaceX team on the successful landing of the first stage of the reusable rocket.  I have seen Thomas Pesquet’s home town in France and learned that he would love to visit Beirut.  I learned that Shane Kimbrough is collecting photos of airports from space and sends out “good morning” or “good night” wishes to cities all over the world almost every day.

Then there are the earth’s natural features that they send to us.  In recent months, we have seen sand dunes in the Sahara and Brazil.  We received a spectacular photo of the Hawaiian Islands with the sun glinting off of the Pacific’s surface.  We’ve also been treated to sights like the Grand Canyon and stops all around the Mediterranean.  We receive beautiful underwater features like reefs and new islands just breaking the surface and then there are the volcanoes from New Zealand to Iceland.  All sights to behold.  We even see the not so spectacular scars we are leaving on the surface in the form of receding water lines, deforestation and climate change.  But I will save that for another time.

All of these wonderful, sometimes tragic, always stunning images link me to two of the subjects that I have held close to my heart for years.  I know the current group of scientists who are also just ordinary people fascinated by the same things we all are, have limited missions.  I can only hope that the future specialists assigned to the Space Station will continue to send these beautiful photos and maybe a little piece of themselves while they are at it, back to those of us who can only dream of being in their place.

If you would like the chance to see these wonderful photos on Twitter, please check out the International Space Station @Space_Station or to follow the astronauts directly Thomas Pesquet @Thom_astro or Shane Kimbrough @astro_kimbrough

In the meantime, I’m going to keep matching up the photos they send with my maps.  We can all keep looking up but don’t forget to take the time for what they can show us as they look down.

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