Archive for the ‘Spaceflight’ Category

Shuttle & ISS Wednesday night

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Assuming the Space Shuttle Discovery undocks as scheduled from the International Space Station at 7:33 AM EDT tomorrow (i.e., Wednesday) morning, there will be an opportunity tomorrow night for folks in parts of the southeastern U.S. to see the Shuttle and ISS flying overhead side-by-side.

Here in Knoxville, the 9:04 PM EDT flyover is just 11 minutes after sunset, so I’m not sure how visible the spacecrafts — particularly the dimmer Shuttle — will be. Certainly, there won’t be much to see if you’re west of Knoxville; the sky will be too bright. But the further east you go, the darker the sky will be at the requisite time. Thus, both the Shuttle and ISS should be easily visible in places that are east of Knoxville and reasonably close to the black line below:


Along the Carolina and Georgia coasts, all across the Florida peninsula, and in the Bahamas, the view should be stunning, weather permitting. As I’ve said before: "Trust me: even if you’re not into dorky stuff like Iridium flares, this is well worth a trip outside at the proper time, if the sky is clear." The sight of "two distinct, bright dots, moving briskly across the evening sky in
tandem — two unmistakable beacons of the human presence in space" is "a really neat thing to see."

You can use Heavens-Above to check the specific viewing conditions for your location. If you’re in the U.S., just click here and enter the name of your city or town, then select it from the resulting list of locales. On the screen that follows, click on "10 day predictions for: ISS" and look for an evening flyover on June 11 (or for that matter, June 12 or 13). If you’re outside the U.S., select your country here and then follow the same steps.

It’s a shame the flyover is so close to sunset here in Knoxville, because from this location, the spacecrafts’ path takes them right past Mars, Saturn and the Moon:


McCain: Let’s go to Mars

Friday, June 6th, 2008

In an obvious and blatant attempt to shore up the crucial Space-Obsessed Law Professors With Highly Trafficked Blogs voting bloc, John McCain said yesterday he would like to put a man on Mars.

Sounds good to me, but what I want to know is, will we do the other things?

P.S. In other John McCain-related news, he’s apparently trying to fight off the "age issue" by making references that the youngsters of today will understand — like, for instance, comparing Obama to William Jennings Bryan.

The year was eighteen ninety-six, and John McCain was just sixteen…


P.P.S. And yet more McCain-related news: he’s released his first general-election ad, in which he states: "Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war. … I hate war.
And I know how terrible its costs are."

TPM’s Greg Sargent says "McCain is using his bio to achieve separation from George W. Bush," suggesting that "even if he’s
continuing Bush’s war policies, he’s different from Dubya in that he understands the costs in a way that Bush never did." The subtext, Sargent writes, is: "Even if that reckless chicken-hawk took us to war,
someone who actually understands and has experienced the costs of war
— someone you can actually believe — is here to tell you that we must
continue it."

So, to review: John McCain hates war, yet he wants to send a man to Mars, a planet which is named after… war. :)

UPDATE: Glenn links here, and says of my above joke, "somehow the Obama backers manage to make everything about Iraq… Heh." Hey, now! What’s this about "Obama backers"? I know it might be hard to believe, given my blog’s recent focus, but I repeat:

I am undecided. In fact, if you put a gun to my head right now
and made me choose, I think — *think* — I’d vote for McCain. But it’s
really entirely up in the air how I’ll vote in November. I like and
admire Obama, but that doesn’t mean I think he’d make the best
president. The best Democratic nominee, yes, but that’s only because
his opponent is such a lying, conniving, deceitful [bad word]. Against
McCain, he doesn’t have such an obvious "character" advantage (both
candidates are, as best as I can tell, generally good, decent and
honest, though of course not pure or perfect), and I’m not at all sure
who I think is, on balance, better on policy.

If that confuses you, consider this: "The portion of my brain that views politics as a sport can’t help
‘rooting’ for Obama (he’s exciting! he’s inspiring! he’s shiny!), [but] the
rational part of my brain, which governs my actual vote, is totally undecided
between Obama and McCain." Obama is the scrappy mid-major going up against the staid, boring, established program; he’s Boise State against Oklahoma ("They said this day would never come: a WAC team in a BCS bowl! Yes, we can!"), he’s Appalachian State against Michigan, he’s Davidson against Kansas. Or, as McCain might prefer to say, he’s Hawaii against Georgia. :) The point is, he’s fun to root for, and that fact bleeds over into my blog coverage. (Also, my blog coverage has just been generally Dem-dominated because that contest has been much more exciting since late January.) Moreover, it’s fun to poke fun at John McCain because, you know, he’s old. (In fairness, I’ve also poked fun at Obama for being messianic and cultish. Whee, humor is fun!) But none of that necessarily means that I support Obama, because in the end, politics isn’t a sport, and voting isn’t about "rooting" or making jokes, it’s about deciding the future of the country. So yes, I’m undecided. Really.

P.P.P.S. Speaking of the Red Planet, Andrew Sullivan this morning posted a picture from 2005 of Sunset on Mars. He should have included it in his "The View From Your Window" series!

Alien fever grips Denver

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Not illegal aliens, mind you. Space aliens:

A video that purportedly shows a living, breathing space alien will be shown to the news media Friday in Denver.

But enough about Dennis Kucinich.

The Phoenix has landed

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

NASA’s latest Mars probe touched down successfully today.

Speaking of the Shuttle…

Thursday, March 27th, 2008


Space Shuttle blasts off

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

The Space Shuttle Endeavour‘s wee-hours launch was a success. Endeavour is scheduled for the longest Shuttle mission ever, 16 days. I hope the crew members aren’t hoops fans! They’re going to miss Selection Sunday and the always-exciting opening weekend of the tourney! :)

Anyway, the Shuttle is scheduled to dock with the ISS late tomorrow night, and undock on Monday the 24th at 7:55 PM EDT. There will be an excellent viewing opportunity here in Knoxville about 24 hours after the time of scheduled undocking, so hopefully everything stays on schedule this time.

Shuttle liftoff tonight

Monday, March 10th, 2008

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to blast off in less than six hours, at 2:28 AM EDT.


Thursday, February 21st, 2008

The military has released video of the spy satellite’s fuel tank exploding upon impact from the missile. w00t!

You can watch it on YouTube, via Fox News, here, or download the military’s video in WMV form here. (Hat tip: SpaceWeather.)

Also, here’s another picture of falling debris from the satellite shoot-down.

A couple of stories about people witnesing re-entering satellite debris, from MSNBC and

And, you know that incredible photo of satellite debris & the eclipsed moon that I posted early this morning? Well, it made the local news out in Oregon.

Speaking of the eclipse, here’s an awesome shot of the International Space Station in front of the partially eclipsed Moon!

Check out this stunning eclipse photo, too. It was taken in Hamedan, Iran.

This long-exposure shot is neat, too. More here.

A lunar eclipse and a manmade meteor

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Weird things happen during total lunar eclipses. Two eclipses ago, during totality, the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. Last night, also during totality, the Navy shot a freakin’ missile at a freakin’ satellite and blew it out of the sky.

Speaking of which: an Oregon-based blogger named Sherry Holub, a.k.a. “scorpy808,” managed, incredibly, to capture a photo of what was almost certainly a piece of that spy satellite burning up on re-entry into the atmosphere — right next to the eclipsed moon in the sky. Here it is:

Wow. Totally awesome. I’m so jealous. :)

(Republished with Holub’s permission. In addition to her LiveJournal blog, she also runs a company called JV Media Design.)

Missile hits satellite; Earth eclipses Moon

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

It’s a hit! The missile hit the spy satellite! No further details are available yet. [UPDATE, 12:05 AM: According to the AP, "In a statement announcing that the Navy missile struck the satellite, the Pentagon said, ‘Confirmation that the fuel tank has been fragmented should be available within 24 hours.’ It made no mention of early indications, but a defense official close to the situation said later that officials monitoring the collision saw what appeared to be an explosion, indicating that the fuel tank was hit."]

Folks on the west coast and in Canada: Did you see anything unusual in the sky — like a "swarm of meteors", perhaps?

[UPDATE, 12:25 AM: Blogger “scorpy808” captured what appears to be a photo of the eclipsed Moon with a piece of re-entering satellite debris right next to it!. OMG! Awesome! (I found this by searching Google Blog Search for the word “satellite” and the phrase “I saw.”) And here is another possible sighting report. Not to mention Lisa’s in comments!]

Back here in the southeast, the only thing unusual in the sky right now is a very reddish moon, which is just starting to show a sliver of white on the lower right edge as it begins to emerge from the Earth’s umbra. As I mentioned below, the clouds eventually cleared and Becky, Loyette and I were able to see it. Well… Loyette may not have seen it, per se, but she was in its presence, anyway. :)

Here’s a photo I took of the eclipse at 10:45 PM:

That’s Saturn at the bottom of the photo, and the star Regulus at the top.

UPDATE: Here’s a wider view, taken at 10:56. The clouds appear orange due to the Greater Knoxville light dome:

Reader Ken Wagner sends along eclipse photos from Nashville. Thanks, Ken! Others’ photos can be found here and here.

Shuttle lands; satellite shot uncertain

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

The Space Shuttle Atlantis landed safely in Florida this morning, clearing the way for the Navy to proceed with plans to shoot down the errant spy satellite as early as tonight. But those plans could be delayed by weather:

Navy gunners in the Pacific were watching the sea and sky Wednesday,
waiting for perfect conditions to take a kill shot on an errant
satellite 150 miles above them.

They have just a 10-second window to fire, a Pentagon official said,
and may not be able to take their shot on their first opportunity at
10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday.

"It’s not enough to say ‘no,’ but we’re watching the weather," the
official told reporters at the Pentagon. "It’s on the margin."

The cruiser USS Lake Erie will get one 10-second window each of the
next nine or 10 days
to fire an interceptor missile that will destroy
the faltering spy satellite before it can tumble to Earth and —
possibly — release a cloud of toxic gas. …

[S]wells in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii [are] running slightly higher than [the] Navy would like.

The National Weather Service forecast 12- to 15-foot seas west of Hawaii Wednesday with a storm developing in the area.

The United States plans to spend up to $60 million to try to
destroy the satellite even though there is only a remote possibility
the satellite could fall to Earth, survive re-entry and spew toxic gas
in a populated area, said James Jeffrey, deputy national security

   "The regret factor of not acting clearly outweighed the regret factor of acting," he said.

Either that, or this is a convenient opportunity to get away with doing a missile test, as some have speculated.

A fireball, a spy satellite, and an eclipse

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Did any readers up in the Northwest (i.e., Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana) happen to see the fireball yesterday morning at around 5:30 AM? (Video here; lots of local news articles here). I’d love to see one of those someday…

Speaking of skywatching events, don’t forget about the total lunar eclipse tonight. Mid-totality, at 10:26 PM EST, will be visible all across the 48 contiguous states. And those in the Pacific Northwest may also want to keep a weather eye to the western sky right around then — i.e., approx. 7:30ish local time — because, as I mentioned yesterday, they might be able to see some spy-satellite fragments streaking across the sky. Just call it Fireball Country!

Satellite shoot-down set for Thursday Wednesday night during lunar eclipse, southwest of Hawaii

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The Navy will try to shoot down the errant spy satellite on Thursday, assuming the Space Shuttle lands as planned on Wednesday.

UPDATE: According to, the attempt will actually be Wednesday night here in North America, which is early Thursday morning Greenwich Mean Time. Here’s what SpaceWeather says:

Rumor has it that the US Navy may make its first attempt to hit USA 193 this Wednesday evening as the satellite passes over the Pacific Ocean. An air traffic advisory warns pilots to avoid a patch of ocean near Maui from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Hawaii time on Feb. 20th (0230 – 0500 UT, Feb. 21st). This would center the missile strike on the darkness of Wednesday’s lunar eclipse and possibly render reentering debris visible from the west coast of North America.

So there you go. From the linked map, it appears that the actual shoot-down attempt will originate a bit to the southwest of the Hawaiian islands, and will occur shortly before 5:30 PM Hawaii time (7:30 Pacific, 10:30 Eastern). If the satellite were to continue on its orbital path, its track would take it up over southern British Columbia a few minutes later, so assuming that any re-entering debris roughly follows the momentum of the satellite’s track (which seems like it would be the case), the Pacific Northwest may have the best chance of seeing re-entering debris tomorrow night.

Incidentally, about that total lunar eclipse: mid-eclipse is at 10:26 PM EST. Here’s a map showing the eclipse’s visibility. Practically all of North America can see it.

Anyway, back to the spy satellite: according to this site, a second air-traffic advisory suggests the military has plans for a second shoot-down attempt Thursday night — same time, same place — if the Wednesday attempt fails.


It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Sky-watchers in the southeast and southwest, don’t forget about the ISS/Shuttle flyover tonight.

UPDATE: We drove out to a spot with a clear western horizon and watched for the ISS and Shuttle. But we only saw one dot in the sky, not two. I guess they must still have been really close together, so they weren’t distinguishable.

Shuttle-ISS sky show delayed to Monday

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

According to Reuters, the scheduled undocking between the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station is now set for 4:26 AM EST on Monday. That’s almost 24 hours later than the 6:35 AM Sunday undocking time that’s stated in master flight plan.

This means the aforeblogged Sunday-night sky show will be far less spectacular than I had hoped. The Shuttle and ISS will both be visible, of course, but they’ll be indistinguishable from one another to the naked eye, appearing as a single dot rather than two points of light trailing each other across the sky. They won’t look much different than a standard ISS-only flyover, which, while still pretty cool, is a commonplace occurrence.

Monday night is a different story, though. Alas, here in Knoxville, the view won’t be nearly as good as it would have been Sunday if the schedule had stayed in place (though it’s really a moot point anyway, since it didn’t look like the weather was going to cooperate), but it’ll be a spectacular view in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and a bunch of other places. Here are Monday night’s flyover tracks, courtesy of Heavens Above:

Again, for local details, go to Heavens Above.