If you are interested in space, you may have tried to get away from the city lights and look up at the night sky. One of the bright objects in orbit is the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is in a fast orbit of the Earth, traveling at over 17,000 mile per hour. This means that the ISS completes an orbit about every 90 minutes. If you are in a spot that is relatively free of light pollution, seeing the ISS is easy.
To plan ahead for such an excursion you can use the “Spot the Station” site from NASA. You can enter where you will be into the site and it will then give you a list of the dates and times the ISS will be visible from that location. The site also gives you directions as to where to look for the ISS in the evening sky.
You can even sign up for alerts for when the ISS will be passing within view of your location. Taking advantage of this would be a great way to involve kids in STEM activities. For me the current closest location with a list of sighting opportunities is for Georgetown, TX, just a few miles north of where I live. The next viewing opportunities will be at:
|Tue May 2, 5:42 AM
||11° above S
||21° above E
|Wed May 3, 4:52 AM
||11° above SE
||10° above ESE
|Thu May 4, 5:35 AM
||30° above SW
||28° above NE
Nothing really exciting in the video above, but it is a graphic reminder that there are several countries with very active space efforts. This shows a launch of the Japanese Kounotori 6 spacecraft taking 4.5 tons of supplies to the ISS.
The launch was conducted a few hours ago and will dock with the ISS on December 13. Aboard the craft is food, water, spare parts and experimental hardware. While these supplied are not critical to the ISS crew, the arrival will be timely since the last Russian supply ship failed during the launch.
On September 15, 2016 China launched Tiangong-2 into orbit. Later in October a two man crew will be launched to dock with the laboratory module. The crew will stay on-board for a month conducting experiments in medicine, physics and biology. This module and its predecessor Tiangong-1, are prototypes for the much larger and permanent 20-ton space station the Chinese are planning to put into space around 2020. This will be about the time that the ISS is currently scheduled to be retired.
Tiangong-2 is 34 feet in length and 11 feet in diameter. The module is also equipped with a robot arm to assist with connecting modules and scientific equipment. A cargo spacecraft flight to resupply tiangong-2 is planned for the late spring of 2017.
The latest SpaceX launch has been another success! Not only did the first stage successfully complete a landing back at NASA’s Cape Canaveral complex, but it also made significant deliveries to the ISS.
Most important amongst the Dragon capsule 5000 pounds of cargo was the International Docking Adapter. Presently, only Russian spacecraft can dock with the ISS. The International Docking Adapter will open up the ISS to mating with spacecraft from a variety of countries and private organizations such as SpaceX. An adapter was originally sent up last summer, but it was on the ill-fated Falcon 9 that broke apart only minutes after launch.
Other experiments among the cargo is:
- a small DNA sequencer
- living heart cells to test how they perform in zero gravity
- muscle and bone loss
- a phase-change material to be tried as a heat exchanger to regulate temperature on the ISS