Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Last View of Discovery In Orbit Tonight

Discovery Prior to Docking with the ISS

I PROMISE to get over my obsession with the space shuttle Discovery once she lands at Kennedy tomorrow around noon, but there's one more historic opportunity worth mentioning. Throughout North America tonight, there will be chances to view the shuttle and the ISS as they pass overhead. You can see the ISS frequently if you know when and where to look. It's the brightest manmade object in the night sky, and second only to the moon, rivaling Venus as the second brightest object in the sky. This website details viewing opportunities for a variety of satellites, including the ISS, for a given zip code which you can input:


Tonight, though, you not only can see the ISS, but about a minute before it passes overhead, you will see Discovery leading the way. She undocked from the space station yesterday and is in final preparation for her landing at the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow. If the clouds will just hold off a LITTLE bit, we should have a good chance to see them both. The ISS will clear the horizon to the WNW at 7:23:24 PM and pass overhead at a peak elevation of 78 degrees and a brightness level of 3.9 (very bright). Discovery is in the same orbit a minute or so ahead but a little fainter, although still very visible if conditions permit. The forecast calls for scattered clouds beginning around 7 PM. I'm optimistic that the view will be there.

Discovery and the ISS

Give it a go if the clouds cut us a break and see if you can spot them. They should be easy to see if you have a clear view. Discovery will be almost half way through it's pass before the ISS appears. Once both are in view, it should be especially easy to identify them since they will be chasing each other across the sky - cosmic tag. Below is a YouTube video of a shuttle and ISS pass over Denver in 2009.  It will give you an idea what to expect. They are a little closer together in this video than they will be tonight, and of course, they are a mile closer to the sky out in Denver...

With two remaining shuttle missions to the ISS, we should have the opportunity to see both Endeavor and Atlantis playing the same heavenly game with the space station. This is Discovery's last time, though. After landing tomorrow, she will be an Earthbound relic. www.tips-fb.com


Unknown said...

Christy- thanks for this post. My family and I went out on our deck last night and had a great view of Discovery and the ISS. Very cool and awe-inspiring!

- Jason Spitzer

Christy said...

Jason - I'm so pleased you guys caught it! It really is remarkable. You know, I can't help but wonder if NASA had done just a little more PR work over the past 10 or 20 years if maybe we wouldn't be saying goodbye to the manned spaceflight program. It so readily captures the imagination and awe of anyone with an ounce of adventure and curiosity in their spirit. I know great space science can be done without people, but nothing draws the rest of us up there with them like a human in space, especially with an American flag on their suit! It amazes me that it was first on the chopping block...