Seeing the International Space Station pass overhead is pretty cool. It glides soundlessly across the sky, getting brighter as it gets closer to you, whizzing by hundreds of kilometers above your head at 8 kilometers per second.
I usually go to Heavens-Above when I think of it to check when the next few passes will be. But wouldn’t it be nice if you get a text or email letting you know that a pass is about to happen?
NASA has set up a service to do just that: Spot The Station. You can give it your email or phone number, your location, and whether you’d like to see evening passes, morning ones, or both (because the station is lit by the Sun, you can only see it just after sunset or before sunrise).
That’s all there is to it. The next time the station is going to be visible from your location, NASA will send you a note. They also have a page describing what the message means, so you can go outside and figure out not just when to look, but where.
I’ll note there’s another service that does this as well: Twisst, which uses Twitter to let you know about good station passes at your location. It would be fun to compare them, actually. And useful, because they may have different criteria for what constitutes a good viewing opportunity. If you want to see the station, it might pay to hedge your bet.
And don’t forget to try to take a picture! The shot above is one I took a few years ago with nothing more than an off-the-shelf point-and-shoot camera set up on a tripod in my back yard. There are two streaks because one (on the right) is the station, and the other is the Space Shuttle Atlantis! I can guarantee you can’t get that shot again, but we do send other spacecraft to the station, so if you time it right you might get something like this. If you don’t try, it’s a sure thing you never will, so give it a shot!
- Watch the skies for the Shuttle and ISS
- And I saw a star rising in… the WEST?
- SERIOUSLY jaw-dropping pictures of Endeavour and the ISS!
- Ridiculously awesome pic of Discovery and the ISS taken from the ground!
As I write this, moments ago, the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a two week mission to the International Space Station. Splashdown occurred at 19:22 UTC. Yay!
[UPDATE (20:30 UTC): SpaceX has a picture of the Dragon floating in the Pacific:
Click to ensmaugenate.]
This ends the first operational mission of the Dragon. It’s the first of twelve contracted by NASA to bring supplies up to and back from the ISS. There was no live coverage of the splashdown, unfortunately (and no, I don’t know why; I imagine that’ll come out soon) but NASA did get footage of the Dragin un-berthing from ISS. Here it is, sped up 15x:
I should add the "Enterprise leaving drydock" music from Star Trek II in there.
Anyway, congrats to everyone at SpaceX and NASA. I’ll note that while most of this mission went smoothly, there is still the issue of the engine that failed during launch, resulting in the loss of an ORBCOMM satellite secondary payload. Hopefully SpaceX will discuss this more during the mission wrap-up.
Image credit: SpaceX
Holy wow, check this out: I grabbed a screenshot from footage on October 26 of Hurricane Sandy from the International Space Station:
Yegads. Look at the storm center; you can see it towering above the cloud deck and feeder bands of the storm. As if that’s not cool enough, that bit of hardware on the left is actually the SpaceX Dragon capsule, berthed to the ISS since October 10. It is expected to undock and return to Earth on Sunday, splashing down in the Pacific ocean at 12:20 PDT.
Looking at this, I’m not sure if I should be awed or terrified. I think I’ll take a little of both.
[Update: Just to be clear, I am not making light of this hurricane. It's already killed over 20 people in the Caribbean, and I noted how dangerous it is in my earlier post. As I said in a post about Hurricane Isaac: "Pictures of hurricanes from space are amazing. As always, there’s a fascinating dichotomy to pictures like this, a simultaneous ethereal beauty and repellent violence. Hurricanes are magnificent, and terrifying."]
Image credit: NASA
You know, I was all ready to go to bed, with a blog post all ready to go first thing in the morning… and then astrophotographer Christoph Malin sent me an email about a video he put together. It’s called "The ISS Stacks" – instead of a normal time lapse where you take hundreds of still images and play them as individual frames of a video, he stacked them, so that each one adds to the last. It creates a dizzying, blurred version of reality that’s seriously trippy. See for yourself, but make sure it’s in HD and full screen first for maximum impact.
Whoa. Now I know what David Bowman felt.
Is there anything to be learned from this video? Probably not, to be honest. It’s just way, way cool.
[UPDATE: The Falcon 9 carrying the Dragon capsule successfully launched right on time, at 20:35 Eastern US time. 15 minutes later the Dragon was in orbit with its solar panels successfully deployed. Amazing. Next up: rendezvous with the ISS at 05:00 Eastern US time Wednesday morning.]
Tonight, Sunday, October 7, at 20:35 Eastern (US) time (or 00:35 UTC on the morning of October 8) the private company SpaceX is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (PDF). Sitting on the top of the rocket is a Dragon capsule loaded with half a ton of supplies for the astronauts on the ISS.
This is very exciting! They have accomplished this amazing feat once before, back in May, as part of a demonstration flight. Because of that, NASA gave them a contract for twelve more flights, and this is the first one of those dozen – it’s designated Commercial Resupply Services-1 or just CRS-1.
[Click to tsiolkovskenate.]
That’s this mission’s Falcon 9 rocket there, lying on its side. As you can see, it’s quite a beast. As with all rockets, most of the main body you see there is for carrying fuel, and the payload, the Dragon, is at the very top.
Once launched, the Dragon will detach, and is scheduled to rendezvous with ISS on Wednesday, October 10. It’ll dock with the station and remain berthed there for two weeks. It’s carrying supplies, including equipment, hardware, and even clothes for the astronauts on board. Once all that is offloaded, the astronauts will load it back up with 350 kilos of material to bring back to Earth, including results from experiments and now-unneeded hardware.
I have my suspicions there might be a stowaway on board though. Anyone seen Bernadette lately?
Anyway, on October 28, the Dragon is scheduled to undock, do a de-orbit burn, and splash down in the Pacific off the coast of southern California.
A complete overview of the mission is available as a press kit (PDF; same link as above). It’s pretty good reading, so if you plan to watch you should give it a once-over.
There’s also a nice collection of photos of the rocket on the SpaceX site, including this nice one of a test firing of the actual CRS-1 rocket sans Dragon:
Coooool. There’s also video of this short test burn:
This mission is really important. Well, they all are, of course, but it’s critical that SpaceX can show not only that they can do this, but that they can do it again. When I was in high school band, we’d rehearse the music, and if we played it perfectly the band instructor would say, "Let’s do it again to make sure that wasn’t by accident." The earlier Dragon mission was almost completely flawless, but it’s when you can do it again that you can really show you know your stuff.
My best wishes to the team st SpaceX. And I’ll be live-tweeting the event, so follow me on Twitter for that. I’ll update this blog post as I can and if needed, too.
- History is made as Dragon splashes down safely in the Pacific!
- Video: SpaceX Dragon mission highlights
- NASA chooses SpaceX to return US astronauts to space (though read the note at the top of that post)
- Rocky Mountain (very) high
When I get too frustrated with things, when I’m annoyed at people, when the dickishness of the commentariat gets too overwhelming, I’ll just click the bookmark I made that goes to this picture:
Sigh. Much better.
The International Space Station was 400 kilometers (240 miles) above the US northwest coast on August 21, 2012 at 05:42 GMT (9:42 p.m. August 20 local time) when an astronaut faced west, looked over the Pacific ocean, and took this picture of the new Moon just after sunset.
Image credit: NASA. Tip o’ the spacesuit visor to Fragile Oasis on G+.
This is pretty neat: on June 6, a couple of weeks before the summer solstice, astronauts on the International Space Station pointed a camera to the north and took pictures as they orbited the Earth. Taken over the course of about an hour – 2/3 of a full orbit – this was made into a video where you can see the Sun setting and rising again. What’s cool, though, is the Sun never completely sets. It dips toward the edge of the Earth, then pulls away again:
I love how the Sun shines through the gaps in the solar array.
The geometry of this is fun! Normally, as it orbits the Earth, the ISS passes behind the Earth relative to the Sun, going into the Earth’s shadow. The Earth itself blocks the Sun, so it’s nighttime for the astronauts. Mind you, their orbit is roughly 90 minutes, so this happens on average 18 times per day and lasts for about 45 minutes.
But the ISS orbits the Earth at an angle: the orbit is tilted relative to the Equator by a little over 50°. During the northern hemisphere summer, the Earth’s north pole itself is tilted toward the Sun by about 24°. Combined, this means that for a time around the solstice the ISS can stay in daylight for an entire orbit. The Sun gets very nearly blocked by the Earth, but not quite. I drew a diagram that might help:
The circle represents the Earth. The Sun is off to the left, so the left side of the Earth is lit and the right side is dark. The north pole of the Earth is tipped toward the Sun as shown, and you can see the Equator marked as well. The "terminator" is the day/night line.
I added the rough angle of the ISS orbit – this was done by eye, but shows you how this works. As you can see, the orbit is tilted only a bit from the terminator. Because the ISS is 400 km (240 miles) above the surface, the orbit "pokes over" the edge of the Earth in the diagram (which I exaggerated a bit for clarity). Because of this, the ISS can see the Sun even when it’s over the night side of the Earth: it’s up high enough that the Earth doesn’t block the Sun.
And that’s what the video shows. At the top of its orbit (as shown in the diagram) the Sun gets very close to but not completely blocked by the limb of the Earth’s horizon, and the ISS sees daylight for a full orbit!
Pretty nifty. And look: your tenth grade geometry teacher may have overstated it a bit when she said some day your life may depend on this stuff… but it does make life a lot cooler when you do understand it.
Tip o’ the spacesuit visor to the ESA G+ page.
As they orbit the Earth from a height of 400 kilometers (240 miles), astronauts aboard the International Space Station take hundreds, thousands of photographs of the Earth below and the skies above. These images are online at a NASA archive called The Gateway of Astronaut Photography of the Earth. This archive is free and open to everyone, which means people so inclined can collect them, put them together, add music, and make incredible, moving, stunning, brain-expanding time-lapse videos… like this one from Knate Myers called View from the ISS at Night:
Incredibly lovely. The use of the music from the movie "Sunshine" was inspired.
There is a poetry in the motion of celestial objects, the perfect balance of forces that allows orbital mechanics to transform itself from equations on a page to artistry in the heavens. What science does is allow us to make that leap, to understand these interactions between gravity and velocity and combine them into grace and beauty. To a scientist, the equations themselves are beautiful – elegant, as we call them; simple yet profound, balanced, yet heavy with implication of how the Universe itself works.
This is why science is so powerful. It’s a tool with which we understand the Universe, and it works. For proof of that, you need only see a picture of Earth from space.
In May 2012, the private company SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit with a Dragon space capsule as its payload. In a history-making event, it docked with the International Space Station and a few days later successfully returned to Earth.
SpaceX put together a short video with the highlights from this amazing mission:
I am not at all embarrassed to admit that parts of this choked me up a little. As incredible as the engineering display was, the best parts of this video are where it shows the SpaceX employees cheering and celebrating the mission milestones. We may get wrapped up in the technical details of these things, but never forget that even in uncrewed missions, space exploration is a singularly human endeavor. I’m proud of these folks, and proud to be a part of species that always wants — always needs — to venture ever outward.
You might think I’m trying to clear out all the time lapse videos I have jostling for attention in my blog post queue, but hold up! I have one that isn’t your everyday video. Not by a long shot. A long, long shot.
This one, using photographs by astronauts on the International Space Station, is different. It features different frame rates, different angles, different music, and even a different soundtrack: inspirational speeches play over the equally inspirational photographs, giving this video a feel that’s, well, different than others.
The aspect ratio is very wide, and I had to shrink it to make it fit the blog, so I suggest watching it full screen. As usual, if you want to understand some of the things you’re seeing, check out the links in Related Posts below.
I live every single day of my life inspired by space. It’s a true joy to know that so many other people feel the same way.