Anousheh Ansari Space Blog

Watching the world go by…

You have probably heard the expression “watching the world go by.” I guess it is usually used in the context of just passing time, relaxing, and not doing anything… just observing… Sort of a state of inaction…

For Astronauts this expression has a new meaning…

I first heard it from Peggy Whitson and then up here from Jeffrey Williams and Mike LA. For them, it literally means Watching the world go by! As you stare out the window up here you see the Earth slowly rotating in the opposite direction. I guess you could see it both ways… some may see it as if they are stationary on ISS and the Earth is rotating, like I do 😉 — and some may see it as if the Earth is stationary and they are rotating in ISS.

The reality is that we are both rotating in the same direction but the space station is going about 20 times faster than Earth so it makes it feel like the Earth is rotating in the opposite direction… Ok enough of that… I guess your head must be spinning now 🙂

So anyway… When you look out, depending on which window you are looking through, you will get a different perspective on Earth. From the windows in the Service Module (remember this is were we eat ) you can see straight down so you see just the Earth surface with a little curvature at the edges.

From the side windows in the little cabins and the docking compartment, where I sleep, you see the complete curvature of the Earth against the dark background of the universe. This view is actually my favorite because you see the “Whole” not the “Parts.” I always like to see the big picture before deciding or worrying about the pieces. I wish the leaders of different nations could do the same and have a world vision first, before a specific vision for their country.

So where were we? I was talking about watching the world go by… When I first heard the expression, I loved it and I have tried it up here… especially at night from my sleeping bag. During sunlight (day time) you can see hundreds of shades of blue in the oceans depending on the depth of the ocean and how the sun is reflecting off the surface… You can see the land masses, mostly without vegetation, with these veins running through them in different shapes. These are either rivers or reminiscent of water flowing on the ground and making its mark as it travels down to the oceans…

The cities are easily distinguishable because they look like someone took a shovel and messed up the ground in that area. The agricultural lands have specific geometric shapes and demonstrate different colors based on the crop and the type of soil. You cannot see any borders… you cannot tell where one country ends and another one starts… the only border you see is the border between land and water.

Most of the Earth is usually covered by clouds. First I thought, “This is a bummer! I cannot see anything or take pictures of anything.” But then I got mesmerized by the clouds… They have so many different shapes and formations… Sometimes they look like a thick white fluffy blanket, some other times like little cotton balls scattered all over…

For the Iranians out there, it reminds me of when I was very young in Iran and we had “Panbeh Zan.” They would come every once in a while and take the cotton-filled blankets (Lahaf) and take the cotton out and fluff it with this ancient device that looks like a big bow (Oh! Oh! I’m dating myself ;)) In some regions the clouds look like streaks… like someone took a paint brush and white paint and just stroked the paintbrush in different directions…

Watching the clouds reminded me of Hamid, my husband… one of our favorite things to do, when we are on vacation, is to lay outside and watch the clouds and see what shapes we see in them… I could see many shapes up here… today for example there was this group of clouds that looked like birds or planes… you know the shape… there were also these clouds that looked like Atomic bomb Mushroom cloud… Pasha (Pavel Vinogradov) pointed out a big circular shaped cloud region and told me “Cyclone” or Hurricane.

You can spend hours just watching outside… but after about 45 minutes, the sky starts to get dark as the sun sets behind the Earth and creates this amazing hue of Orange mixed with the prettiest Blue… and then the night time comes. You cannot see the Earth that well unless you’re going over cities. Only then you will see these blotches of orange hue spread around. Large cities, of course, are more visible.

Most of the nights when I look out, I can see thunderstorms down below. I know it’s not pleasant for people experiencing the storm on the ground, but from up here, it looks like a magnificent light show. These flashes of light pop up in different locations randomly. The other night as I was watching this I was listening to “Canon” by Johann Pachelbel, and it looked like someone was orchestrating the lightning with the music… I think we were somewhere near the coast of Australia over the Pacific Ocean…

But that is not the best part. The best part and by far my favorite view up here is the view of the universe at night. The stars up here are unbelievable… It looks like someone has spread diamond dust over a black velvet blanket. The Milky Way is easily visible… like a rainbow of stars over the entire earth… I cannot keep my eyes off of them I put my head to the window and stay there until the coldness of the glass gives me a headache… then I pull my head back a little and continue gazing out.

As I gaze out I thank God once again for helping me be here and experience this. I have been thanking him for letting my inner voice carry out to you all and ask him to give me the vision to see my path in life and the strength to pursue it. These are the most peaceful moments I have had in my life and I feel a great source of positive energy. I have a hard time sleeping too long because I keep forcing my eyes open to just see this beauty and take it all in… only a second longer…

Good night! my Window awaits me so I can watch the world go by and feel all your tears and laughter from down below…

Have an awesome day or night, where ever you are…