I don’t remember the first time I saw a satellite in the night sky.
In the stargazing of my memory, it is always late summer. I am lying on a dock on a lake in the woods of northern Wisconsin. It’s unseasonably cold; I’m in my pajamas, but wrapped in blankets. I hear waves lap at the rowboats, gently slapping the dock. Five feet beneath my head, crayfish crawl on the sandy lake bottom. Somewhere out in the blackness, a loon calls across the water.
But all I see is the sky before me—an infinitely cavernous, deep purple dome containing the universe. As the earth spins and the night gets blacker, the stars multiply before my eyes. The Milky Way arcs brilliantly across the sky, wrapping around my horizon as if it were about to hug me.
A meteor streaks overhead—a fireball, trailing smoke. The violent contrail is illuminated by the meteor’s own glow, millions of joules wandering the solar system for billions of years, transmuted to heat and light in the blink of an eye.
My eyes wander through the field of stars, each one seeming to bloom into ten more in my periphery. If I squint at one hard enough, can I make out the planets that must be surrounding it? The civilizations that must be inhabiting them?
And then, out of the corner of my eye—a moving star. Not blinking, not moving slowly like an airplane: a satellite, shining faintly on snatches of stolen sunlight, racing from one horizon to the next. How incredible, I think, that something from the hands of man could move among the stars.