Last night at 18:39 we dragged an air mattress out to our back yard and lay down on it, staring into the still-blue sky. After a minute or two we saw it: a bright light racing from the southern horizon, faster than a plane, brighter than a star.
Its journey took less than two minutes, as it crossed toward the north and disappeared somewhere beyond the trees, flying slower near the horizon than it had at the apex of the sky. Fortunately we knew what this strange object was, and didn't call the local RAF to report a UFO.
The space shuttle Discovery is currently docked with the International Space Station, which meant it would be a particularly bright object as it crossed over London. Plus it was high enough to reflect the sun's light as it crossed our sky. Later on, at 20:15, it came back again, but this time it disappeared halfway across the dark sky. Luckily again, we knew what had happened: it had crossed beyond the reach of the sun's light at that point.
It's hard to imagine an object that far away, with tiny humans inside. I wondered what it must be like, peering down at Earth, the home of every human in the universe, except for those few who live in space.
Today President Obama is going to ring up the space shuttle, tell the astronauts hello. They had a hairy moment last week, when space debris forced them to alter their orbit. A few days earlier, they'd had to take refuge in the Soyuz lifeboat capsule as another piece of junk hurtled toward them.
Maybe President Obama can assure them he'll clean up space after he solves the financial crisis, ends two wars and halts global warming.