I have been told that one thing they instill in you during astronaut training is that Space is cruel. That Space doesn’t give a crap about you. That a moment of inattention, a subpar checklist, or a cocky attitude is enough for Space to remind you — or, most likely, people left to mourn you — that in the grand scheme of things you matter astronomically little.
And yet, I cannot stop dreaming of Space. I have been lucky enough to witness the launch of the last of Space Shuttles in person, and I once flew in zero gravity, pretending to be an astronaut (or rather, who am I kidding, my alter ego sci-fi pilot).
But there are easier things, and this weekend my friend and I tried one. We packed our camera gear, drove towards the clearer skies of Joshua Tree National Park, and waited for Sun to — quite literally — call it a day.
Then, we looked up.
This weekend was the first time in my life I saw the Milky Way.
Or, to be precise, I did not just see the Milky Way, and that’s what made it even more special.
I watched the Milky Way move right in front of my camera, much faster than seemed possible. I waited for it to rise, and planned to see it set. I chased it with a lens first, and then with a car second.
Perhaps Space is cruel. Perhaps Milky Way doesn’t really give a crap about me. Perhaps there’s nothing romantic about the predictable motions of billions of natural fusion reactors, and I’m reading way too much into the Olbers’ paradox and the fact that Earth rotates as every goddamn boring planet is wont to.
But this nocturnal weekend, in a beautiful park filled with trees, animals, and a few other maniacs like us, I felt a rare bit of a kinship with the world above. For a brief few hours, this galaxy I just discovered became my partner in crime.
To anyone who’s dreaming of Space: try it yourself. It’s a wonderful feeling.