Watching the skies

International Space StationMy kids like space. They love watching the space shuttle launches. I hope we someday get to see a launch live, but for now, NASA TV or a download on my iPod suffice.

Last spring I looked up and saw a solid light crossing the sky. Knowing the space shuttle was aloft, I fired up Google for help on tracking the shuttle movements. I found a great sight called Heavens Above and sure enough, I’d seen the shuttle. So now I’m hooked on shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) passes. It really is quite incredible, particularly when the reflection is at its brightest. It looks as bright as a low flying plane.

This summer Sean and I got to see the ISS pass over trailed seconds later by the space shuttle. It was incredible. Erin has been upset so far because she hasn’t gotten to see the ISS pass over, so last night, after checking Heavens Above, I bounded down the stairs and told the kids to put on their jackets and shoes. Sean drafted Beth to join us in the back yard. We got to see something really cool. The ISS passed almost directly over our house and as very bright, and it got even cooler. About midway through its pass, the ISS started to fade out and then disappeared completely. It had moved outside the light of the sun.

I don’t know why more people aren’t intrigued by these regular passes (the ISS transits the Earth about once every hour and forty minutes), especially when it’s as bright as Venus or Jupiter in the night sky. With a sight like Heavens Above, it’s easy to figure out the best time to watch, and with a shuttle launch coming within the next week, it’s a great time to start.

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