Linenger's Letters to his Son

January 31, 1997
We'll look up together"

Dear John:

When I look out the window up here, more likely than not I see water. Since 70 some percent is ocean, that's the way the dice roll.

I have on the ceiling a laptop computer with a world map. On it is a trace the space station's path over the planet. Every three days or so I enter in our coordinates (using big long numbers like Z pos -1.8782342146) at some exact time in the past, and it then calculates where we must be now. Kind of like those math problems you'll someday hate: if a man leaves his house at 8 a.m. and travels at 60 mph....blah,blah,blah...where will he be at noon? Well 17,500 mph is a lot of speed, things change fast, and you have to factor in drag and other things that only rocket scientists know about, so I'm glad the computer does all the work and shows me a moving dot (my location) over the world map.

If I see we are approaching some land mass, I do my best to make it to a window. Armed with a map. Points along the coastlines are the easiest to identify. For example, seeing Eighty Mile Beach (Western Australia) today was a piece of cake. Peaks, if snowcapped and standing alone, along with rivers (the brown Amazon and its tributaries are huge) aren't bad either. Cities are tougher, especially if inland. Brownish dots and rectangular shapes. At night, they light up; especially in the US and Japan. Coastlines light up more--its obvious from space that that is where most of the earthlings live. Clouds always make it challenging.

Flew into sunset today over Indonesia. Could see some huge, vertically- developed tropical storm clouds, whose tops cast 300 mile linear shadows across other clouds below and the Earth itself. Then blackness. Billions and billions of stars.

I don't know the stars very well. Most people don't. Bet a lot of people don't even take the time to look up. Weeks, maybe months pass, and we don't even look up.

John, when I get home we're going camping. Your first father-son camping trip. The Michigan woods would be great, but pitching a tent in the backyard would do. And we'll look up together.

Miss you, John. Tell Mommy I love her.


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