Birthday Space Station

ISS1

I subscribe to http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/ and you can too. It is a free service that works almost anywhere in the world and will alert you some 6-8 hours before the International Space Station flys over you.

I was thrilled that for the second year in a row I was going to have the chance to see the International Space Station on my birthday! I got the following message at 3:59am:

 

“Time: Sat Dec 27 5:39 PM, Visible: 6 min, Max Height: 48 degrees, Appears: NW, Disappears: ESE”

 

I was thrilled! When the ISS is visible for 6 minutes it means it is passing almost directly overhead. Most of the time it is 3 or 4 or 5 minutes, but at 6 minutes it covers the entire sky. When you are looking for the ISS, understand you are not seeing a spaceship. What you see is a dot of light. NASA says it is the “third brightest object in the sky,” the other two being the moon and sun. You can’t mistake it for a low flying airplane because it doesn’t blink. It is also traveling faster. Relative to the ground, the ISS travels some 17,500 miles per hour, circumnavigating the entire Earth in only 90 minutes. It is moving damn fast!

Last year on my birthday I watched a Russian Cosmonaut on NASA TV, live from the ISS taking a space walk to do repairs to the outside of the Station itself. That night we watched as the ISS orbited across the night sky.

This year I was poised and ready to see the station again. I was going to try to get a photograph of myself with the ISS in the background because I am just a massive nerd like that. It is bright enough to be in your selfie on a clear night. My trouble was that a massive cloud cover was drifting across the sky just at 5:25 when I was outside waiting. It seemed to be a race. 5:39 came and I knew the dot of light was overhead but those clouds had come from the NW and were traveling ESE. I was going to have to be lucky and wait for the final few seconds to try and get the photo. The issue is that the lower the ISS gets on the horizon, the atmosphere distorts the light and you may not see it go all the way to the treeline. It was a race. I was either going to run out of visible time, or visible sky.

Then it happened, with only the narrowest of views, between the clouds and a building, one little speck of light dropped from the clouds! As you see with the photo above there was only the narrowest of margins.

Fuzzy, off in the distance, through the haze of clouds, and atmosphere, there is a little dot of light in my photo. It is the International Space Station and seeing it on the same day two years in a row is pretty fracking awesome.

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