20 November 2008

One billion and counting

By the time the first element launch anniversary rolls around on Nov. 20, the space station will have completed 57,309 orbits of the Earth, a distance of 1,432,725,000 miles. If the station had been traveling in a straight line instead of in orbit, it would have passed the orbit of Pluto and be in the outer reaches of our solar system. (NASA: ISS 20 Nov 08)

That's a BILLION plus miles! That's a hard number to get a hold of. I once did a lesson on my birthday--I had just turned 32--about the number of seconds I had been alive. 32 years times 365 days times 24 hours times 60 minutes times 60 seconds is 1,009,152,000 seconds. (I did not account for leap years and etc.) It seemed like a nice way to get a handle on the notion of a billion. It worked for me, at least. The students were about half my age at the time, so they got about 500 million seconds, and I hope, some sense of the number. These days I'm at least three times as old as the students, and also older than most of the parents!

Today is the 10th birthday of the International Space Station. It began in 1998 with the Russian launch of Zarya. The Zarya module (the name means "dawn" or "sunrise") was the first piece of the ISS. Endeavour, as part of STS-88, brought the Unity module up a few weeks later and presto-change-o we got ourselves a space station. It is hard to be excited about international cooperation and the future of the human race when people are starving, or slaughtering each other, or both, in various corners of the globe. But this little piece of space is working, and has stayed working for a decade. That's something, eh?

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