“There it is!” a woman said pointing to the dusky western sky. “I see it!” chimed another. Half a dozen others looked up to watch the bright light of the International Space Station move steadily from one horizon to the other.
At one point, it shimmered strangely directly above the small group of people who gathered around a glowing fire outside an apartment building on a chilly October evening in an ordinary town in America’s Heartland.
It was an impromptu get-together of residents including three widows, a single retired teacher, and a gentleman and his wife who needs constant care. Two others joined them, adult children each visiting their mothers from out-of-town.
Whether they were companions that evening out of chance or destiny, a feeling of fellowship passed over them as odd and surprising as a space station hovering 250 miles above.
From lawn chairs, they tracked the space station as it came into sight somewhere over Montana and five minutes later faded out of view over West Africa. Comments circled around the fire pondering ever-advancing technology, the future, and their own smallness in the universe.
As they stared into mesmerizing orange-blue flames, there was quiet conversation against a backdrop of nature’s nighttime noises and constellations that grew brighter in the darkening sky.
Inside the space station, roughly the size of a football field, a six-member crew conducts experiments in human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology. They orbit the Earth every 92.68 minutes gathering data and testing hypotheses.
Despite costly and important research, it’s doubtful the crew could ever quantitatively measure or observe the most important qualities of the human spirit, like those displayed around the small gas fire pit more than a million feet below them.
Strength to carry on after losing a loved one.
Courage to face illness and pain.
Love to care for another person.
Determination to overcome loneliness.
Wisdom to keep learning and growing.
Hope to stay encouraged.
Service to community.
Faith to believe in a better world.
The cameras and crew on the International Space Station have awesome views of our planet, but what they couldn’t see as they orbited the Earth that chilly October evening was the human bond of unlikely friends sitting around a glowing fire outside an apartment building in an ordinary town in America’s heartland. §