Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I watch the live feed from the International Space Station for a bit. It's nice. Highly recommend it.
The High Definition Earth Viewing Experiment is NASA's public-access live feed of what the ISS sees. Anyone can tune it at any time, and watch the world scroll by from 250 miles away.
The feed bounces between four cameras, each of which is "enclosed in a temperature specific housing and are exposed to the harsh radiation of space," according to the HDEV research site. They're designed with help from students through the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program. The cameras hitched a ride to the ISS on the SpaceX CRS-3 launch in April 2014, and have been operated by high schoolers since, in the coolest extra-curricular activity ever.
The video is transmitted straight from the ISS to the ground in real time. The video link makes it useful for watching certain hurricanes swirl from space, as it happens.
But they're not up there just to help me deal with my blood pressure: mission objectives include analyzing the hardware's ability to survive and function in Low Earth Orbit's harsh radioactive environment, by comparing video quality to previous recordings.
The cameras pretty much look after themselves, switching in a cycle automatically. All that's required from a human on the ground is switching the power on — it's periodically powered off as required for video data downlink — and controlling or adjusting them as needed.
A lot of the time, tuning it will get you this, which most likely gets conspiracy theorists and alien hunters a little drunk on adrenaline every time it appears:
But sometimes, opening the feed at the right moment catches a spectacular sunset:
We can wax poetic about Pale Blue Dots and the Overview Effect, and how seeing the Earth from a great distance might save all of humanity from mass self-extinction.
But the best — and most frank — example of how deeply the awe of seeing your home planet from space wriggles into the most feelsy bits of your brain might be from the first American to take a spacewalk, astronaut Ed White.
Once he clambered out of the hatch of the Gemini spacecraft, it took a whole lot of NASA ground control coaxing to get him back inside, like impatient parents calling a kid home for dinner. His response to repeated calls to come in was basically, "La la la, I can't hear you!"
"This is the saddest moment of my life," White said, upon finally re-entering the spacecraft.
Never close your ISS livefeed tab and spacewalk forever.
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