Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An October Sky

Photo credit http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/october-4-1957-soviet-union-launches-sputnik-satellite/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 

It’s a shame the sky above me will be cloudy tonight, because there is a cool astronomical event that will be occurring – a lunar eclipse.  This is not just any old eclipse (although, to me any eclipse is a pretty cool event), this will be a rare selenelion event in which folks at just the right place, under just the right conditions will actually be able to see the sun rise as the totally eclipsed moon sets.  Sky watchers everywhere are thrilled.   

There is something special about an eclipse, for as long as people have existed, we have come up with great legends about eclipses.  They are mysterious and they change the natural order of things.  We rely on the sun and the moon to be predictable, so an eclipse was a very scary event for early man.  They wondered why the sky turned dark.  Even now that we know the cause of these events, they fascinate sky watchers everywhere.  Somehow, watching an eclipse makes us feel closer to the heavens. 

There was another important event in the sky fifty-seven years ago that changed our world forever.  That sounds like a bold statement, but it did.  On October 4th, 1957 Russia launched the famous Sputnik satellite into orbit, and at some time between October 7 – November 3rd, Americans first glimpsed the beginning of man-made spacecraft and spaceflight.  This was not just a scene from a science fiction novel; Sputnik was real.  For our country, the fear of the communists and the competitive desire to beat the Russians to the moon spurred an entire nation headlong into a space race that lasted over a decade and resulted in Neil Armstrongs historic steps on the moon.  That night, fifty-seven years ago, when Homar Hickam looked up into a dark West Virginia sky, he was inspired to become a NASA engineer.  Homar wrote a very successful book about his journey to become a rocket scientist, “Rocket Boys” which was later released as movie entitled “October Sky”.  Mr. Hickam expertly described the passion and wonder that Sputnik inspired across our nation. 

The creativity & ingenuity of NASA scientists became apparent as their work found its way into the homes of America.  From computers to medical equipment, as NASA made new inventions for their astronauts and missions, we as a country benefited.  Check out this list of cool inventions that we can thank the space program for:

Take some time this week and take a look up in the October sky, try to imagine the wonder and awe that people felt when they first saw Sputnik. I wonder what we will find up in the sky in the next 50 years, and what it might inspire us to do next?

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