Linenger's Letters to his Son

February 2, 1997
"
Or is it night?"

Good morning, John:

Or is it night? Since you just flew half-way around the world to Russia-- bet your little body feels like it is daytime at night. Biological clocks. S

unlight will soon reset yours; but up here things are different. We keep passing from dark to light, light to dark, every 45 minutes. Our watches are set to Moscow time-- but if I look out the window at noon, I could very much as likely see stars as sunlight.

Reminds me of when I was an surgical intern, working long hours, day and night. Sometimes I'd walk out of the hospital, expecting daylight, into the night.

The daily routine helps. The alarm goes off at eight each morning, we eat the normal three meals a day (at 9am, 2pm, and 8pm), and try to get to bed at 11pm, though more often than not, midnight. When we turn the lights off, or slip on our eyecovers, we try to trick our bodies into thinking it's night. Not so different than what submariners do.

Since we are talking of time maybe now is a good time to talk of relativity. Einstien stuff. The continuem.

Can't say that I understand Einstien's theory, but I have come to appreciate his genius. It hits me when I look out the window, trying to predict, in my mind, the next motion of the stars. Or out of which window the earth will be at a given time. It quickly becomes complex.

The stars are basically fixed. They move, of course, but they are very far away, so relative to us, they look fixed. Though anyone who has become frustrated trying to see the constellations realizes that the position of the stars in the sky has changed dramatically since the first person mapped out the picture of the crab, the scorpion, and all those other wierd animals. We need new drawings.

Getting more down to Earth; it, the Earth, is spinning. We are flying in a ring around it, but it moves underneath us, so that after each orbit we are over a different piece of real estate. But the space station likes to keep its solar panels (those big flat sun-ray catchers you see sticking out and getting in the way when we want to take photos) pointed at the sun. So we maintain orientation whereby, relative to the sun, those panels stay lined up. We use the word inertial for this, in order to baffle people and sound like we know what we are doing. This, however, means that relative to the earth, the station is slowly changing which side is pointing down. And to us, this means that a given window that used to be facing Earth, may not be twenty minutes henceforth.

Pheew! Relative on relative. I find it easier to float to various windows, peer out, and see what I can see. Trial and error. I can tell you that I watched the Big Dipper rise over the Earth low in the window, and set about twenty minutes later high in the window.

I think that Einstein must of had a differently shaped head. The hair flying out every which way proves that his electrical circuits weren't standard issue.

John, since you have half my genes, I reckon that you too will be forced into a life of trail and error. Muddling through. Let me tell you that it is not so bad. You'll enjoy the many surprises of life. Like I just used the word "henceforth" a few paragraphs ago for the first time in my life.

Enjoy your day (or, pleasant dreams). I'll be watching over you and Mommy.

Love,

Dad.

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