My wife had to wake me up for the big event, the passing of the International Space Station over Maine after the May 30th SpaceX launch. I had fallen asleep while reading, having given up on watching the constantly breaking, increasingly depressing national news broadcasts on television. I was no longer able to tolerate the terrible scenes of rioting, looting and burning taking place across our ailing nation. I’d missed the launch the day before, doing something vitally important like mowing the lawn, so I didn’t want to miss this space-age milestone.

What I hoped to see (or at least imagine) was a kind of miracle. Five space pioneers – three American astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts – flying at 17,000 miles an hour some 220 miles above the Earth, working together as scientific partners, and not at each other’s throats like their Earth-bound counterparts.

Down below, on our fragile planet, angry Americans torched their neighborhoods and battled police, while invisible internet-savvy Russian instigators promoted chaos and division with their insidious posts on our most popular social networks. The result appeared to be a world on fire, melting down, out of control. When had the world gone so mad?

On this special observation night, you could see the space station, a tiny white blip, like a fast-moving star against the darkening sky, for about four minutes before it disappeared like magic several degrees above the eastern horizon. For those four short minutes, you could imagine a better, saner world.

I remember the first moon landing of Apollo 11 in the summer of 1969. I was 16, watching this history-making event on my black and white TV in my dark bedroom, following Walter Cronkite’s advice on how to capture Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon’s surface with my 35-millimeter camera. It was surely one of America’s greatest and proudest moments. And yet, that same year, there was the York race riots in Pennsylvania, the murder of five people by followers of Charles Manson, and the war in Vietnam. The year prior, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.

Was the world really any worse today than it was 51 years ago? If it felt like the apocalypse then, what the hell was happening today? Violent protests, a plague, economic disaster. But if we could survive the horrors of 1969, and still prosper and evolve as a nation, couldn’t we similarly rise to the occasion and overcome these damnable dark days, and even darker nights?

These thoughts, both troubling and hopeful, rushed through my mind as that fast-moving man-made star streaked silently across the vast dome of the indigo sky. Looking up, I was spellbound, caught up in the wonder of this technical and scientific achievement, the bright light of the human spirit realized. And then I remembered the other side of the coin, our country’s turn toward anti-intellectualism and science skepticism.

I was confused. But for a few brief minutes, that little moving star was a tiny speck of hope.

— Special to the Telegram

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